Zirconia in the Rough 

It's too easy to make a lousy CD these days, but also too easy to ignore a great one.

"Hey, do you guys do CD reviews?" Next chump to ask this question gets a knuckle sandwich. Here in the Express bat cave, a steady stream of tourists shuffles through every day to gape at our hundred-foot-high wall of discs sent by starry-eyed publicists and edgy rock combos from Kalamazoo who've got a gig comin' up next month at IHOP in Fremont.

Too many ... goddamn ... CDs!!! Becoming ... desensitized ... to music!!!

Granted, this is a ridiculous occupational hazard compared with, say, black lung. And once you dive into that perilously looming stack, you unearth some genuinely splendid tunes.

Consider the following Bay Area acts being unfairly ignored by curmudgeonly media types nationwide.

Artist: Watch Them Die

Disc: Self-titled

Insufficient Description of Sound: Cookie Monster, beaten to death in a horrible Slayer mosh-pit accident, rises from the grave to avenge his murder via brutal thrash metal that is absolutely hilarious upon first listen but eventually reveals itself to be perversely awesome.

Ideal Listening Environment: Hell; Rooster's Roadhouse; Iraq.


Bonus Fact: Most disturbing press bio ever. "Every so often, people have the tendency to want to inflict bodily harm on another person, something that can be accomplished in many malicious ways. An extreme example would be to shoot someone at point blank range, but if you want to torture someone and watch them die a slow and painful death it is now as easy as pushing play."

More info: WatchThemDie.com; live at SF's Cat Club, December 2.

Artist: Tower of Power

Disc: Oakland Zone

Insufficient Description of Sound: Classic funk slick enough to pack the posh environs of Kimball's East, but nowhere near vicious and edgy enough to walk the streets unarmed after nightfall. These cats are long in the tooth, but squeak by with enough bite if horn sections still give you hot flashes.

Ideal Listening Environment: Any joint with a large enough stage -- according to the band's site, at one time or another the three-decade-old ToP has employed seven different drummers, eleven lead vocalists, twelve saxophonists, and fourteen trumpeters.

Key Lyrical Statement: "I got a pocket full of soul right here." (Repeat endlessly.)

Bonus Fact: Special liner notes dedication by ... Mayor Jerry Brown! "On behalf of the people of Oakland, I am proud to say that we are honored, once again, to be the source for the unrivaled sound rhythm of Tower of Power in the 'Oakland Zone,'" Jerry declares. Proud to be declared honored, Mayor Brown. On behalf of ourselves, thanks, man!

More info: BumpCity.com (Nice.) Live at the Fillmore December 13.

Artist: Justin Morell

Disc: triOrange

Insufficient Description of Sound: Delicate (if wanky) jazz trio instrumentals, very atmospheric and chin-stroke-inducing. A bit less accessible than Justin's earlier project, The Music of Steely Dan. What a piano trio at Yoshi's would sound like if the entire club were underwater.

Ideal Listening Environment: Your swanked-out, IKEA-decorated, bachelor love nest, curled up with a forty-year-old bottle of wine and two or three hos.

Key Lyrical Statement: No lyrics, leaving you plenty of psychic space to ponder your exes, world politics, and the NFL.

Bonus Fact: CD extras include sheet music and track-by-track pointy-headed analysis: "This through-composed piece is written in alternating time signatures -- mostly 5/4 and 4/4 -- and melodically based on the twelve-tone row B-F#-E-F-G#-G-C-D-A-D#-A#-C#. Once the row is stated, it does not reappear except in partial retrograde at the end of the form." Dude, quit ripping off the Strokes.

More info: JustinMorell.com; live at SF's Bacar Restaurant and Wine Salon on November 5 and 13.

Artist: Bart Davenport

Disc: Game Preserve

Insufficient Description of Sound: Quirky-ass singer-songwriter possessing remarkable chameleon-like abilities -- there's the mariachi tune, the cheery Eagles tune, the James Taylor ballad, the disturbingly accurate Mick Jagger impression on "Euphoria, or Everyone on Earth Is So Beautiful, Even You." (Ha, ha.)

Ideal Listening Environment: The Bay Area. We love us some ultra-clever quirky-ass singer-songwriter dudes, but Bart's cleverer then the majority of 'em, over-reliance on bah-bah-bahs and oooh-la-las notwithstanding.

Key Lyrical Statement: "When you're sad/It all seems moot/Pretty girls ain't even cute/When you're sad."

Bonus Fact: Nedelle, the Moore Brothers, and Xan from Cake guest-star to ratchet up the hipster quotient.

More info: AntennaFarmRecords.com; live at Bottom of the Hill with labelmates Beam and Ladybug Transistor, Friday night.

Artist: The Bootcuts

Disc: In the Comfort of Your Own Home

Insufficient Description of Sound: Smirking twangy country ballads about illicit sex, harried greasy-spoon waitresses, and falling in love with bearded slobs. Like a buncha SF intellectuals set out to mock the music their parents loved, but suddenly discovered a) they enjoyed playing it and b) they're really good at it.

Ideal Listening Environment: That club in The Blues Brothers where the band plays in a cage while everyone throws bottles.

Key Lyrical Statement: "I don't need bacon/I don't need bread/I just need a baby in my bed tonight/It's my personal lifestyle choice."

Bonus Fact: Saved from irony overload by the fact that some of these songs are actually fantastic. Request "Irregardless."

More info: Bootcuts.com; CD release party November 14 at the Ivy Room in Albany.


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