The Four Corners
Say You're a Scream
When the Pandoras fizzled out in the late '80s, folks went hunting for a new garage-rock "chick" band to fill the void, and -- lo! -- there appeared Thee Headcoatees and the British Medway scene. Now that Thee Gals have gone their separate ways, fans of greasy reverb and catchy chords are casting about for another arbiter of girly garage-rock grooviness. The Four Corners, a mixed-gender band from Athens, Georgia, is a strong contender. Although the group eschews the femme fatale role-playing of its predecessors, the Four Corners definitely has it going on in the Cool Department. With a crashing, hook-laden rhythm section, an ever-present (but eensy-weensie) Farfisa organ, and a smoky, sinuous mix, the Four Corners' new album is one of the most consistent and compelling neo-garage albums to come out in a long time. It's a little frustrating that the female vocals are so muted in the mix -- you can't understand a word they say -- but the songs are all catchy.
Cincinnati, Ohio's Greenhornes have a much more abrasive, but no less effective, brand of retro-rocking. They bring to mind hometown heroes such as the Pagans, and Northwestern legends like the Sonics, in their aggressive, muscular brand of '60s-flavored power chordage. This is definitely an all-guy band, doing what all-guy bands want to do: rock out, dude. The future of the past never sounded better.
Find Your Home
Vue's eponymous debut was a post-punk collage of high-glam drama and dirgy melodies. It was a forceful entry, but too scattered to hold onto one distinct vision. To be fair, at the time of that recording, Vue didn't know if it was aiming for an EP or LP and if it was going to be on Sub Pop or another label. The recording process itself took place between three different studios. One year later, the band is now in a committed relationship with Sub Pop, settled in the studio, and is standing on firm musical ground. If Vue was the band on a bender of confusion, Find Your Home is the end of the hangover, a cohesive, purposefully styled stab at stoned garage 'n' roll. Find Your Home still has its theatrics -- frontman Rex Shelverton can still be counted on to go into musical heat ("I'll be making out with everything that I see/ and those lips will be cool/ and those mouths will be sweet"). He croons his desires with a slurred urgency that constantly sweats through the sheets. Vue's musical backing is as inviting as Shelverton's libido, mixing slide guitars, harmonica, retro keyboard melodies, and organically driven guitar jams that get back to rock 'n' roll's basics. Like the Go, the Von Bondies, and the Greenhornes, Vue doses the art/rock formula in a batch of strong psychedelics, tripping back through the past on a path that's destined for greatness.
Fear, Love & War
Close affiliates of the Wu-Tang Clan, New York/Ohio-based Killarmy released Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars back in '97. A slept-on classic, it introduced the group's intense, rapid-fire flows over ridiculously sick production from underrated beat genius 4th Disciple. It didn't exactly race up the charts, but those in the know were feeling it. The next year saw Dirty Weaponry, another solid effort enjoyed by fans but virtually ignored by the mainstream. After three years of silence, Killarmy now returns to bombard us with Fear, Love & War.
Six MCs deep (Baretta 9, Dom Pachino, Killa Sin, 9th Prince, Islord, and Shogun Assassin), their mike presence is fierce, with nearly every track playing like a posse cut. Songs like "Militant" and "Monster" showcase their machine-gun-esque flows, set to thick beats and a whirlwind of rugged samples. "Street Mentality" flips a spooky guitar loop and brash horns with a bass kick that seems ready for a war of its own. The group shows its soft side on "Feel It," which addresses the importance of family over moody vocal clips and melancholy rolling pianos.
As you might assume from the name and record titles, Killarmy is heavy into warfare, terrorism, and military assaults. While such subject matter may seem ill-timed, it's also probably the reason they've failed to catch on with the masses. Most of the songs deal with death, destruction, and mayhem of some sort, and they're really just too hardcore for many people to handle. However, if you like the Wu (specifically the raw, early Wu), absurdly banging production, and furious rhyme skills, Killarmy delivers.
Return to Central
It only takes a minute or two of hearing Bis' quirky keyboards, perky beats, and reedy vocals before the words "retro, retro, retro" start popping into your head. It just may be the right time to yank out those tattered checkerboard Vans slip-ons, skinny leather ties, and eyeliner. The kitschy Glasgow trio is all about new-wave funk with a slight rock edge on its latest album, Return to Central (the first for SpinART Records after records with indie imprints such as Lookout!, Wiija Records, and the Beastie Boys' now-defunct Grand Royal). This album was coproduced by the band and Jason Famous (Mogwai, Arab Strap, Slam), and marks a significant turn in Bis' career, graduating from nascent "elementary" melodies to increasingly complex and challenging songs. Eschewing some of the more, shall we say, "youngish" qualities of its previous work -- such as Intendo and The New Transistor Heroes -- Bis displays a newfound sense of maturity in songwriting and arranging while still maintaining a childlike demeanor. Essentially, Return is both new wave and straightforward pop without cynicism. Bis manages to carve out a distinctive sound of its own, while garnering comparison with such kitsch-loving artists as Unrest and Air Miami (for the speedy, melodic pop qualities), Stereolab (for the offbeat and serene elements), and Chicks on Speed (for its sublime ferocity and relative simplicity). It's no mistake that Bis wrote the theme song for the Powerpuff Girls; the childlike element still exists in the hearts of Bis members. But as with every child, the desire to grow up becomes too difficult to ignore.
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