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Don't hate Radish because they're young. Hate Radish because they're mediocre. That's the lesson behind Restraining Bolt, the debut CD that finally puts a sound to the hype. From the million-dollar Mercury deal to the full-on New Yorker spread, there are those who would have you believe that these Dallas teens are Nirvana's second coming. But for better or mostly worse, that title belonged to Candlebox, and Radish will have to settle for third- or fourth-generation Bush. Even though this latest blast of teen spirit sports nary a bad song nor boring hook, Restraining Bolt is still sadly devoid of imagination or innovation because, yes, imagining your name is Kurt Cobain is no longer innovative.

The weight of Radish falls on the shoulders of Ben Kweller, a 16-year-old gifted enough to pen the smart metallic pop of "Sugar Free" and "Today's Bargain" and still dumb enough to find album-worthy a line such as "School's not working today / My math teacher's gay." At that point, which comes in the painfully generic "Failing and Leaving," it's as if Kweller is too lazy to jump for the brass ring the record business is conveniently holding just about knee-high and is already lyrically underachieving just to spite his own promise.

And how do we know Kweller's so promising anyway? Perhaps because just before Restraining Bolt sizzles out on Kweller's faux rage and kiddie ramblings, there's a truly catchy one-two punch -- the dreamy "Little Pink Stars" and the chord-twisting "Simple Sincerity." While both are solid alternative rock anthems, it's too little from a band coming about five years too late. Here's hoping all the hype spurs better writing -- which could make Kweller's In Futero follow-up the one to buy. (** 1/2)

-- Andy Langer

Papas Fritas
Helioself
Minty Fresh

Papas Fritas is the latest contender (and quite possibly the trophy-taker) in the Happiest Band on Earth contest. Their jolly songs bounce around the room like kids who ate too much sugar. Although they have their indie sensibility intact and have been a fave in their hometown of Boston for some time, these pop players don't buy into the lo-fi, fuzz-filled aesthetic common to some of their peers. Instead, they hole themselves up in Boston's Columnated Ruins -- a former Montessori school with open lofts, spiral staircases and 17 acres of surrounding land -- with grade-B-plus equipment and practice until they get it right.

The trio, whose roots go back to high school, shares songwriting and singing chores, although drummer Shivika As-thana has the most striking voice for slower tracks such as "Say Goodbye." Both guitarist Tony Goddess and bassist Keith Gendel, a Houston native, remind lovers of new wave of a time when three-minute ditties ruled radio and frontmen didn't mind exposing their sensitive side for the sake of a great song. The steady drum beat on "Sing About Me" is straight out of the Go-Go's' repertoire.

This sophomore release's barrage of hand claps, saccharine tones and la-la choruses, especially in "Rolling in the Sand" and "Words to Sing," conjure up images of moral-filled themes from a children's TV show. The peppy candor grows on you with every play. Bottle this stuff quick, because it's addictive. (***)

-- Carrie Bell

Richard Buckner
Devotion & Doubt
MCA

As was his indie debut Bloomed, Richard Buckner's Devotion & Doubt is filled with songs that convey deep sorrow, confusion and regret. At his best, Buckner captures such emotions in tightly packed language and well-chosen details: the vow we didn't keep, the look that says it's over, the old photo that brings it all back. Just as often, though, his tunes seem to hide these painful moments; the listener has to dig for meaning.

I'm not saying Buckner's songs are complex enough to reward repeat listenings; I'm saying they often require repeat listenings to make sense of them. Buckner's newest compositions are fleshed out with words that are often more poetry than lyric, and with subtle melodies that begin to reveal themselves only after several run-throughs. On "Roll," "Song of 27" and others, complete thoughts leak out over several slowly delivered lines, if at all, and the result is that even as the words -- usually more adjective than action -- drip down, it's tough to wrestle them into either sense or sensibility. Heck, I've listened to the line "Won't you slump on over and stir my shuffle down" 20 times and I still don't know how it's supposed to make me feel, let alone what it actually means.

Because of this, it's up to Buckner's voice and to the spare arrangements of producer J.D. Foster to ensure we stick around long enough to understand the poetry. To Buckner's credit, his intense, wrenched vocals (he sounds like an unpolished Dwight Yoakam) are up to the task -- sometimes. On the a cappella "Fater," for example, he wishes a departing lover the best, and the sheer sincerity of his aching cries ("I hope your heart will travel well"), not to mention the song's familiar folk melody, pulls you in. As the album progresses, though, the arrangements become more atmosphere than music. Just solitary piano chords and barely audible brushes support "Roll"; only long, thin accordion lines and a noodling e-bow flesh out "On Traveling." While admittedly moody and often intriguing, these soundscapes serve mainly to further ob-scure the songs.

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