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Sad Pygmy
"tomato halo"
Lazy Squid Records

Every time I think garage rock has once and for all become its own self-referential bad joke about its own bad self, some local band puts out a disk like "tomato halo," and for a precious few two-and-a-half-minute chunks of time, it all matters all over again.

"Speechless" is the lead track, a spacy rock instrumental with spooky organ overtones of Umma Gumma-era Pink Floyd, and it's only partly accurate as an introduction to what turns out to be a 19-song set of mostly straightforward garage rock. Sad Pygmy works in some experimental industrial and atmospheric effects, mostly as preludes or fade-outs ("Schreckenghost," an exception, carries the intergalactic noodling the whole nine yards), and they add a nice retro-weird coloring to flesh otherwise stretched pretty thin over simple, heavy-riff bones.

But psychedelic effects don't do much to explain why I like this disk so damned much. And at 19 songs, "tomato halo" covers a lot of ground, some of which could just as well have been left uncovered. Alternative alienation like "Something in My Head" and "Derailment" isn't newly twisted, and the instrumental filler of "Involuntary Twitch" and "Transcendental Maggot" was probably fun to play, but it's hardly memorable.

But when co-vocalist/bassist Carol Sandin belts out "G.O.M.B." ("Get Off My Back"), she sounds like she means it, and the punk enthusiasm she brings to her songs is part of the grace that carries the record. Another part rides on the back of co-vocalist/guitarist C-Dog. It's easy, and common, for an underground band to take its general disaffection and write generally disaffected songs about it, but when someone actually pegs a precise moment of hair-pulling frustration and gets it down on tape, then you've got a document of angst that's a keeper. "Light Beer," "Condiment Conspiracy" and "Fishsticks of Doom" mine this hole of personal loathing, turn it into something gut-splittingly funny, and provide the reasons why I keep getting the urge to play this disk at odd hours of the morning. When C-Dog narrates himself down the hall in the middle of the night to an ominous riff, opens the fridge, selects his sandwich fixin's and then discovers, oh, no, there's no mayonnaise, he's singing about a pain I can relate to and leaving the weight of the world on heavier shoulders. It's a trick not many bands try anymore, and it works like a charm.

-- Brad Tyer

Spunk
Spunk
Sound Virus Records

Houston's Spunk has always been just a bottle of tattoo remover, a drop of adrenaline thinner and a good hairbrush removed from a glam-metal band, and a Beavis and Butt-head endorsement away from White Zombie's major-league cult status, but that's just the problem -- they've always been there. Burned-down band houses and an unstable lineup that looks like a perpetual cakewalk at Emo's haven't helped get the band onto its formidable feet and sprinting the fast track.

Spunk's debut CD solidifies an underground legacy that's been spottily represented on tapes and vinyl singles, but it doesn't sound like it's quite ready for the kind of breakthrough success White Zombie -- the closest stylistic comparison I can make -- has recently enjoyed. The reason -- and this is no complaint -- remains excessive rawness. Rob Zombie and friends may have opened the commercial door for hardcore cartoon metal, but Spunk still sounds too tough to walk through.

But if tough is what you're looking for, Spunk is one-stop shopping. Slashing guitars, desperate yelping vocals, thrash tempos, songs about big cars, white trash, ugly sex, and getting butt-plugged in the pen. Super-cool cover graphics, too. It doesn't inspire, and it doesn't stray far from its narrow course, but if you're after music that'll kick your ass for you -- or if you're still into buying stuff that'll piss off your parents -- you need this.

-- Brad Tyer

Beef Masters
Secret Place of Wonderment
Sound Virus Records

The homespun psychedelic hash -- dumb, greasy, and worth a drive to some dive on the outskirts -- that Beef Masters make of Doug Sahm's semi-classic "Texas Ranger Man" makes Secret Place of Wonderment worth a listen all by its lonesome. And by the time I got to "Beef Masters," with its lyric, "Some kinda mutant rock and roll / just a little bit of that Texas soul / the size of the hide doesn't matter / as long as the beef is on the platter," I was perfectly ready to agree.

Straight rock here, with indistinct but good-enough vocals, sonics out of the bottom of a reverb pit, and the balls to actually attempt real songs to match the cowboy punk attitude. In national eyes, Texas underground rock is largely associated with Austin's Trance Records lineup and the dense, seamless assault of bands like Ed Hall. But Beef Masters stretch out into wide-open spaces, actually using the dynamics of soft-versus-hard; they aren't in such a headlong rush to prove themselves true punk rawk that they forget to stop and pull up some flowers along the way. "Clusterphoek," which sounds a little too much like something America might have recorded on a bad day, is a good pretty-song example, as is "Apocrypha."

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