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There's a bunch of pseudo-intellectual crap on the sleeve, references to Apuleius' Metamorphoses and a Mountain Goat Mandala, for instance, but start listening and pretension gives way to the kind of drop-dead gorgeous lyric postcards that Freedy Johnston, for instance, specializes in. "The Black Ice Cream Song," "Standard Bitter Love Song #7" and my favorite, "Bad Priestess," give hints at the Mountain Goats' personal pantheon of obsessions, but not a clue to the quirked-out force behind a line like "The morning glories climb the wall / and you speak in a slow crawl / I'm trying to piece together what you're saying / but the birds are screeching and the hounds are baying / I don't remember there being any hounds around here." Worth the effort (****).

Coming back to center, which is to say coming back to that place in the musical spectrum where easy listenability is a prime virtue, there are too many nationally notable discs on the shelf this month to sort through, and the Kristen Hersch v. Tanya Donnelly hook that's emerged with the simultaneous release of Throwing Muses' University and Belly's King has already been beaten into the ground (they're both great, if you've got some sort of Boston College Rock Fetish).

So I'll come closer to home and take a look at Austin's Loose Diamonds, whose Burning Daylight debut was named 1993 Rock Album of the Year in the NAIRD Indie Awards, whose panelists must not have listened to much else. Loose Diamonds is a four-piece playing well-crafted, rootsy rock and roll, and the band tours one hell of a lot, with the result that the new New Location is a tighter, punchier record than the first.

Tighter and punchier though it may be, New Location offers the type of tuneage critics like to burden with the tag "American Music" -- largely because it's easy enough to avoid being wrong, and even more so because of its total lack of any personality more specific than that. It may seem like a noble achievement to meld country, blues, folk, rock and R&B into one package, but what you're really getting, in this case anyhow, is committee-decision rock. It's the kind of music that directors of beer commercials cream over, because it makes nods to all your major demographic groups without offending any of them. And if you direct beer commercials (or think the music contained therein is primo material), I recommend this highly. Otherwise I'd yawn and walk away (*).

Geographically and stylistically 180 degrees from Loose Diamonds, the 5.6.7.8's lies twitching. I don't know what it is about Japan that produces such a gloriously twisted take on American popular music, but I'm thankful for it.

We've been told for years that the Japanese are great admirers and supporters of American jazz, and to find reciprocation you need only look to pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, but most of the stuff I'm hearing is much more difficult to explain. Shonen Knife sha-la-la-la-la-ing their way through their Beach Boys/Shirelles/Ramones hybrid was sweetly unexpected, and the Boredoms' Butthole Surfers/Captain Beefheart mindmeld is absolutely necessary, whether you take those influences seriously or not. Even Pizzicato 5 did a decent job of lounging swankily. So I guess it shouldn't surprise me that there's someone over there doing The Cramps, just a little bit farther out. The new disc is The 5.6.7.8's, though I wonder if they really meant that possessive apostrophe, and it comes via Australia's Au-Go-Go label, an Aussie peer of Chicago's Touch and Go, and home, by the way, to Houston's Sugar Shack.

It's 14 songs, divided on the CD as Side A and Side B, packaged heavy on the retro/vintage side. Three women on bass, drums and guitar, and they're not being precious with their influences. The last track, "Scream," is just precisely that, and "I Walk Like Jane Mansfield" is an almost-instrumental hallucinatory surf-stroll through David Lynch-land, where the soundtracks are always better than the films they support. In my experience, perfect accompaniment to party and nap equally, which means definite keeper (*****).

-- Brad Tyer

***** Chimay
**** Celis White
*** Shiner Bock
** Bud
* Keystone Light

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