The songs on Statutory Grape mostly run the gamut of grade-school experience. "Magic Bunny" investigates the mystical powers of stuffed animals. "Sad II Say" revisits the tragic story of how unicorns disappeared from the earth. "Why? (The Bowling Ball Song)" confronts the problem of people who borrow things and don't give them back. The faux earnestness works best when it's most overstated ("The Bellman"'s bizarre humor), but fails when the subjects are least believable (the Jackie Collins tribute). At their most over-the-top, Sissy Bar succeed in turning Snoop Doggy Dogg's "Gin and Juice" into irresistible indie-pop. You haven't experienced gangsta rap until you've heard the voice of lead singer Joy sweetly cooing, "I've got bitches in the living room getting it on." Kids these days, I tell ya. (***)

-- Roni Sarig

Cheer Up
Sub Pop

Cheer Up is one of those rare CDs where the cover tells the whole story. The glossy cardboard foldout sleeve features three photographs of three guys -- presumably band members Michael Angelos, Norm Block and Michael Barragan -- and in each, the made-up and tattooed subject is seen considering his own visage in a large bathroom mirror. They're posing, the way just about all of us have done at one time or another, usually around age 17. They seem absolutely entranced with themselves and their rock star postures.

That cover would make a great jumping-off point for a discussion of style versus substance, only there's no substance in this equation. Sub Pop would have it that these guys blend "glam, Goth, punk, metal and psychedelic influences," but the disc sounds more like one of those "Alternative Samplers" Taco Bell used to slap together to draw the kiddie crowd into its evil Pepsico empire. Not to say that Plexi can't handle the diversity -- anyone with a gift for mimicry can do that, and Plexi gets some tough sounds out of its power-trio lineup. You may even find yourself pounding or humming along to some of the better executed of these second-generation audio Xeroxes. But you'll search in vain, as the boys on the cover seem to be doing, for any sign of a distinct personality, or any particular point of view other than, "Look! We can do this too!"

Wait. I'm being too harsh. There is one memorable moment, wherein Plexi builds their musings around the line, "And I wonder what it's like to die." Hey, can someone help these guys out? (**)

-- Brad Tyer

CDs are rated on a one to five star scale.

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