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Monday, December 10

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Detour

CD
-AH

The Meak
Shall Inherit the Earth (Borderlane Recordings, 2005)

First of all, there's nothing meek about the Meak. And they sound like they're not going to wait around to inherit anything. They're going to break in and steal it. This is some of the best floor-stomping, blood-boiling teenage rock since the strip clubs in Hamburg stopped booking British beat combos.

The four members of the Meak might have a combined age of less than 66 but what they lack in experience and virtuosity, they more than make up for in exuberance and passion. Singer/rhythm guitarist Philbo Fagen, 16, sounds like he's going to tear a hole in his throat as he screams his way through "Be My Woman, Girl." Simple, but loudly effective drumming from 15-year-old Kelly Bartlett speeds up at just the right moments. If you want a steady beat, buy a metronome -- this is rock and roll, baby!

The real star of the Meak is lead guitarist, Mike Dusendang. He's the oldest member of the group at 18 and has been playing in bands all his life, most notably with his first band, the Casketmakers, with his older brother Karl. Tragically, while changing a tire on the band's van on the way to a concert, Karl was struck and killed by an undercover police officer engaged in a high speed car chase. After this, Mike, who had been a normal happy-go-lucky teen, turned inward. His teachers even told his parents they suspected he might be involved in the occult. To this day, Mike plays his brother's Vox Teardrop guitar and he coaxes sounds out of it that seem unimaginable. Whether he was inspired by the Sonics or the Kinks is anybody's guess, but he plays through an amplifier that's been cut open with a knife. His solos sound like you're getting stabbed. Check out "I Need More Than You Can Give" and "Shadows in the Dark" for his best, most primal leads.

It's tough to listen to all 14 tracks on Shall Inherit the Earth at once. You can only take so much of this kind of raw primitivism in one sitting. And while there are plenty of great moments, a couple songs stand out as real bummers. "How Much Can I Take?" is a lame attempt at a ballad, and Fagen's snotty vocals, so perfect for the uptight screamers, just come across as whiny and wimpy when he's begging his girl to treat him right. You just want to smack him. The other dud is the embarrassingly silly attempt at artiness, "The Ocean Is Blue." As this is the only track written bassist Davey Straights, it's safe to assume he won't be writing too many more songs for the Meak. The lyrics are bad enough ("I want to float in the sea with the jellyfish / as the passionate porpoises bellyflip / and the wondrous whales carry me down / to the depths of St. Barnacle's crown"), but it's the harpsichord that really wrecks this song and destroys the feel of the entire album. Obviously played by someone's mom to give the impression of solemnity, it just sounds forced. It's like they're trying to prove that they can do more than just rock and roll. And they obviously can't.

But with songs as mean and tough and bitter as "So You Think That's It?" and "I Just Don't Care About You (No More)," you can forgive the Meak for their missteps. Overall, this is a great record you can use to scare your girlfriend away and then make yourself feel better after she's gone.
-Jake Brown

CD
-AH

Pete Rose Versus The Giant Squid
Feed a Cold, Starve a Lover (Schott Records, 1998-2005)

It could have been the latest Charlie Kaufman flick. But as it turns out, Pete Rose Versus The Giant Squid is the name of my new favorite band. And it's not just a name, it's a mission statement. It never occurs to me that there are people out there who take sports seriously (that's willful ignorance on my part). But apparently longtime Reds fan Bryn Myers sees Pete Rose's downfall as an injustice he must rectify through music. He reminds me of the priest in The Exorcist: wipe off the pea soup and yell at the Devil some more. I also didn't know anyone cared about giant squid like I do. However, one Seth LaPod aches so tenderly for the grande calamare that you will be forced to look away.

There must be a God, because Myers and LaPod met and then decided to start a band. Their music might be the first entry in a new category: Mush Metal. LaPod has an unfailing ear for the chord that dissolves your nervous system. There are musical phrases in PRVTGS that will require you to call in sick, ball yourself up on the couch, and forsake hygiene. Oh, and cry too. Go on. It's definitely unmanly. But, after all, a man is only human. Myers, however, knows how to dissolve your bones. Grind them, really. On their latest release, Feed a Cold, Starve a Lover, Myers shoots monstrous power chords out of his guitar like an interstate sniper hunting Mack truck. It helps that these nerds can barely play their instruments, and they can barely play a lot of them. Nothing annoying like virtuosity or taste to get in the way.

And make no mistake, they have an agenda. The song "Pete in the Hall of Fame Now, Goddammit!" pretty much sums up Myers' contribution. I've seen guys defend their pregnant wives from soccer hooligans with less passion. His way of singing reminds me of an old Pinto I used to drive. It was out of alignment and the brake pads were gone. You could hear me three blocks away. Locally I was known as This Is What It's Like When Fords Cry. But oddly enough, Myers' shrieking and bashing nicely enfolds LaPod's gentle sea chantey-style of song. When LaPod sings to his (squid?) lover, "Oh grab me, take me in/ I bet it's nice, inside your skin" you almost want to strap yourself to a sperm whale and let it take you down to where the giant squids dwell. This is unequivocally love music. But sometimes love is scary, thus the "Versus" in their name. Remember O.J.?

Does Mush Metal have a future? Doubtful. It may be interesting to some of us the way PRVTGS combine syrup and shock therapy -- Smurf and turf -- but I'm betting most folks will find it headache-inducing. But that's all right, because from what I've been able to find out, Myers and LaPod are a couple of agoraphobes who don't need your attention anyway. In fact, the only way to hear their new record is to call their label and leave your phone number. Then PRVTGS call you back and sing the whole thing into your answering machine -- sort of a reverse Dial-A-Song. It's as good a way as any to hear music. And maybe that's Myers' and LaPod's point: there are numerous ways to love. Sometimes it happens in the sea. Sometimes it happens in a stadium. For me, it happened when my answering machine flashed "messages full." -Rich Sparks

CD
-NH

Madison Monroe
Spank (Tween Beatz, 2005)

Four-year-old wunderkind Madison Monroe's debut album is a study in contradictions. High-gloss production rubs elbows with low-fi tricks to create a blanket of sound like the wooby you had when you were Madison's age. The contradictions don't stop at the production -- the lyrics veer from childish ("the penguin and the bear/ mike's got underwear/ la la la hair/ the penguin and the bear" from "The Penguin and the Bear") to deeply emotional ("waaaaaah/ want my binky/ waaaaah/ where my binky at" "from Where My Binky At").

The artist herself seems to be at a crossroads, unsure of whether she wishes to cling to the trappings of childhood on songs on display in "Where My Binky At," "The Penguin and the Bear" and "Uppie" or if she is ready to take the first trembling steps into pre-adolescent-hood hinted at in tracks like "Big-Girl Pants," "My Celly Is Blowin' Up" and the title track "Spank (I've Been Naughty)."

The best song on the album is the title track. It's a dark meditation on the power of authority and our helplessness against it. Madison sounds like Thom Yorke when she delivers the lines "crayon on the wall/ screaming at the mall/ spank spank/ I've been naughty." One can't help but also hear a subtle delight in Madison's voice, a commentary on society's sado-masochistic fascination with crime and punishment. Also, the beats are pretty hot.

Madison makes her only misstep on the song "When I Grow Up." "When I grow up/ I wanna be a princess/ I wanna be a fireman/ I wanna be a ballerina/ When I grow up/ I wanna have a baby/ I wanna be a mommy/ I wanna eat spaghetti/ When I grow up," she sings. Nowhere in the song does Madison mention being an songwriter/vocalist. She shows a distinct lack of respect for her audience by implying that the album she has made is nothing special, nothing she wants to be when she grows up. Madison needs to put a little more care into her lyrics overall, and the fact is no more evident in this little faux pas.

The album works because of these dichotomies, however, and while this reviewer hopes that Madison's sophomore effort will show a little more maturity as a songwriter and artist, Spank is by no means a disappointment. -Eric Rampson

CD
-AH

Glib Funkas
Hubbalicious (GrooveKnot Records, 2005)

I can't think of a more aptly named band. Hip hop pranksterism is nothing new, but over the past three records the 'Funkas have added cocky drive, swagger, and character to hip hop music -- all the while eschewing the gangsta-ism and pimpsta-ism that have saturated hip hop for more than a decade. Their most recent offering, Hubbalicious, is both an affirmation of their funky house style and a heavy handed departure from it.

It's no secret that this hip hop act has had its paws in the homosexual puddle for quite some time. While not overtly billing themselves as queer, they had no qualms with being known as "bisexual hip hop artists," as Out Magazine labeled them four years ago after their third release, Honey Can You Polish My Brass. Apparently, though, emcee FNK WZL and maestro D'Wok Rippon (T. Rippon Jackson) have come clean in the interim. In the months building up to the new release, both admitted to having used the bisexual label as a soft entry into gay culture -- both in terms of their music and of their personal lives. "It's cliche," said D'Wok in a recent issue of New York's Time Out, "but we really wasn't comfortable with being called 'gay' until we started making [Hubbalicious]."

After the last tour (opening for such acts as Outkast, whose Andre 3000 has notably influenced FNK WZL in both his delivery and personal fashions), D'Wok compiled a 14-piece funk band and began rehearsing regularly for the next 18 months. "We played mostly Parliament. All the time," laughs bassist Daddie Long Legs. "It got real old."

The new band's P-Funk instructional has paid off: the live band is an awesome addition to the Glib Funkas' arsenal and gives the act a great edge that is lacking in much of the hip hop industry. Funky beats and instrumentation on studio recordings are one thing. But every track on Hubbalicious is played live, and the difference is remarkable. Because the result is so sinuous, so slippery smooth, and so ridiculously fun, listeners might overlook the fact that the performances on the record are exceptionally tight.

On a slightly disappointing note, D'Wok rolls a few queer cliches into some of the samples he chooses to use in the music. Stuff from Diana Ross, Gloria Gainer and Dusty Rhodes work in this context, but cries of "Do you believe in life after love" (Cher) and "Can't get you outta my head" (Kylie Minoque) -- though lightly buried under thumbing bass and tingling drums -- come off as a little odd here. Not to mention unimaginative. Thankfully, these samples are brief and few.

It's FNK WZL who delivers the real goods, though. On prior records, he was charismatic, feisty, and flashy--but given his performance on Hubbalicious it becomes evident that he was merely finding his voice. He now explodes with energy as he sings about getting his funk on with the hottest brothas in the club and he wraps his lips sensually around his mike when rapping about more intimate encounters--yet he manages to still strike out forcefully on political issues with a stand-up-and-take-notice determination. Vocally, he runs the gamut from Bowie to Marvin Gaye (with an Andre 3000 pit stop), but he does so in such a way that it is cohesive and distinctly his own.

Their timidly offered sexuality may have contributed to their muted successes in the past. Let's hope that listeners will see the record and the band for what they truly are: awesome good fun.

 

About the Author(s)

Jake Brown is editor of Glorious Noise; Brandon Heckman is a writer and artist; Eric Rampson is an improviser and writer; and Rich Sparks is a man of mystery.
Cover illustrations by Andrew Huff and Naz Hamid, co-founders of Gapers Block.

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