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An arresting critique of paranoia American style, The Surveillance is Trans Am's response to a society of burglar alarms, security gates and video surveillance. It's an ostentatious idea, even from suburban white boys. Song titles such as "Armed Response," "Access Control" and "Home Security" are hardly subtle, and the same goes for the music, which is prog-rock with a '90s twist. Recorded at home by the band using minimal studio trickery, the drums are raw and the performances sound extremely alive. Songs twist about and fall over on themselves, losing their original path only to emerge in a different sonic landscape; repetitive guitar jams are undercut by electronic blips to form an ocean of pent-up anxiety; waves of static move in and out rhythmically to create enticing grooves; and fuzzed-out punk-rock bass elevates songs to an original Beastie-Boys-meets-ELP plane. Hell, there's even a drum solo two-thirds of the way through the album. Need I say more? (****)

-- David Simutis

Trans Am performs Friday, April 3, at Zelda's.

Mary Lou Lord
Got No Shadow
Sony/Work

There is something disconcertingly Pat Boone about making a career out of covering other people's songs. And in the DIY world in which Mary Lou Lord operates, that suspicion is somewhat warranted.

For a number of years and over the course of a few cultish singles, Lord has acted as cheerleader for a host of other songwriters, chiefly Lou Barlow, Nick Saloman (of the British psycho-pop act Bevis Frond) and Elliott Smith. In the end, her devotion to doing justice to some of indie rock's most underrated moments -- coupled with her ability to excise the ache from the harshest sentiments -- has gotten her where she is today. All the while, the 33-year-old busker extraordinaire has coyly dodged the notion of writing and performing her own songs, while implying that she'd do so eventually.

Now she has -- sort of. Got No Shadow is Lord's first full-length CD after nearly a half-decade of rumors, innuendo and promise, and four of its tunes are indeed Lord originals. The rest are either borrowed or collaborative efforts of some sort. The real power of Got No Shadow, however, lies in her skill at delivering a song -- anyone's song.

Even her own. "Jingle Jangle Morning" is Lord's messy-haired response to Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man"; and the best self-generated track on Shadow, "Western Union Desperate," matches a soggy feeling of longing with a clever melody and a memorable turn of a phrase.

Rather than the solo acoustic outing some might have expected, Got No Shadow comes with its own wily cast of rock and roll characters: drummers, guitarists, bassists, like-minded hangers-on. Not that Lord couldn't have stood on her own: With her candy-apple cheeks, shock of blond hair and memorable voice, Lord exudes the kind of star power that turns heads. (***)

-- Brendan Doherty

Hagfish
Hagfish
Honest Don's

It's a shame that Hagfish's eponymous CD arrived in the mail the same week as the advance copy of the new release by ALL, the alter ego of the legendary punk band the Descendents. It's not that the Hagfish album is bad; no, "average" would be the more appropriate term. But it's hard to give a group of self-styled descendants of the Descendents your full attention when superior material from the source is sitting right next to it by the stereo.

That said, with Hagfish, this Dallas quartet makes an attempt to move away from its earlier three-minute homages to the Descendents/ALL camp. To that end, the band affects a style that sounds more like a jet-lagged Ramones doing Buddy Holly covers at a 1950s sock hop, and -- for a while, at least -- it works. Songs like "Band" and "Envy" are among the best Hagfish has ever written. "Band," with its "bop-bop-shoo-bop" chorus, is especially endearing, proving that the band can write more than odes to oral sex. Another high point is a cover of They Might Be Giants' "Twisting." Long a staple of Hagfish live shows, the tune sounds like it was written for them alone, and the band plays the hell out of it.

After that, however, Hagfish loses steam. Considering that the band used to get by on sheer energy, the songs sound tired. They just don't have the same oomph, that special something that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention. And by the way, the new ALL album is set for release May 5. (** 1/2)

-- Zac Crain

Hagfish performs with Save Ferris and Home Grown Friday, April 3, at Fitzgerald's.

Press Ratings
***** Historic
**** Great
*** Worthy
** So-so
* Lame

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