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Tripping Daisy
Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb
Island

A Texas outfit with Tripping Daisy's wiseass pedigree could only hail from Dallas, a city that prides itself on standing apart from (and above) the rest of the state. It's also no big revelation that Tripping Daisy's often uncomfortable attempts at better alt-pop transcendence through pretentious oddball chemistry would be better served in, say, New York or Los Angeles. And, indeed, there are certain Texans out there who'd just as soon see the group load up its dippy, self-absorbed ego circus and hightail it to Greenwich Village.

But, alas, somebody must like Tripping Daisy. The band's last release, I Am an Elastic Firecracker, sold upward of 300,000 copies. And at a time when major labels are cutting bands loose at an alarming rate, Tripping Daisy has remained with Island Records since 1992. Truth is, the band has hung in there when many predicted a meltdown after 1995's Firecracker, yet another strained and disjointed studio outing. You could say the group has thrived on its insufferable outcast status here in Texas, upending the stigma to reveal a rugged undercarriage of resolve. Their self-serving gag-rock elitism subscribes to the philosophy that it's better to get a rise out of listeners than no reaction at all.

So naturally, band founders Tim DeLaughter, Wes Berggren and Mark Pirro responded to Firecracker's lukewarm critical reception as expected: They blew it off. They toured relentlessly behind the release, after which they returned to Dallas and faded out of sight to regroup, adding a new guitarist and drummer. Their new lineup solidified, Tripping Daisy then headed north to Woodstock, New York, and nearby Dreamland Studios to record Firecracker's belated follow-up.

Turns out getting the hell away from Texas did the band some good, as Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb is Tripping Daisy's catchiest, least inhibited work to date, a deliciously temporary, mildly decadent mind-fuck. Befitting their nonsense titles ("Sonic Bloom," "Your Socks Have No Name," "Bandaids for Hire"), few of the album's 15 tracks amount to much in the way of content. Most are just bundles of syllables strung together for no other purpose than their conveniently quirky rhyme schemes (sample nonsense lyric: "You can set yourself on fire / Burning's good when you're burning wood / It tastes the same with an overbite.")

Surprisingly, though, Tripping Daisy's silly streak is bearable, for a change. Perhaps it's because Atom Bomb does such a convincing job of making the ludicrous seem effortless -- even, God forbid, inspired. In the past, the group could be relentless in its pursuit of the perfect novelty angle. At best, those strained efforts suggested an unlikely collision between Ween and the Butthole Surfers. At worst, the band sounded like a simple-minded, redneck cousin of the former and/or a far less dangerous version of the latter. But on Atom Bomb, Tripping Daisy happily works within its limitations, playing up its underrated skill for plucking hooks out of thin air. And with the help of co-producer Eric Drew Feldman (Frank Black), the group boosts its sonic impact at little cost to the music's impulsive streak.

There's even that rare moment on Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb when Tripping Daisy almost sounds sincere. "Love gets inside of you / Makes me invisible," DeLaughter sings in "Sonic Bloom," his voice quivering and exposed. A love song, no less -- and one that shamelessly defaces the Carpenters' legacy. Is it any wonder Texas has all but buried this band? (***)

-- Hobart Rowland

Curve
Come Clean
Universal

Since Curve's Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia quietly dropped from sight in 1994, like-minded acts such as Garbage and Sneaker Pimps have done well in the duo's absence. Now, back from an extended hiatus and with the help of Alan Moulder and Flood (who, between them, have worked with everyone from Smashing Pumpkins to My Bloody Valentine), Halliday and Garcia are prepared to go toe to toe with their commercial superiors. Come Clean plushly melds vast walls of guitar noise and techno-Gothic beats to Halliday's airy melodies and newfound sensitivity.

Although still insufferably moody and atmospheric, Curve places less emphasis on torrents of guitar noise, instead leaning on their much-evolved melodicism. Halliday's elastic voice moves to the forefront in a poppier and more introspective guise. Not that she can't be a tough cookie when she has to be: On "Dog Bone," Halliday snarls, "You only call when I'm alone," baring her teeth amid squalls of feedback and an industrial-strength groove. But more often than not, Curve plays it soft, subtle and bittersweet. "Something Familiar," for example, is buoyed -- not buried -- by a wash of guitar fuzz and distorted keyboards. Rather than simply lashing out, Halliday shows maturity and restraint throughout Come Clean by focusing mostly on her own wounded heart, all the while questioning herself. (***)

-- David Simutis

Curve performs Sunday, July 12, at Numbers.

Miles Davis
The Complete Birth of the Cool
Capitol
The Complete Quintet Recordings 19651968
Sony Legacy

More than any other important player/composer of the modern era, Miles Davis never stopped developing, often embarking on musical excursions that confused fans and critics alike. His impact on the musicians who played with him and those who followed in his footsteps cannot be overstated. And while there have been many innovators in jazz, only Miles was, well, Miles, as these two new collections readily prove. Though extraordinarily dissimilar, both feature recordings that changed the genre's vocabulary. They also represent the trumpeter at two of his many creative peaks -- peaks at which it seemed he could make landmark music at will.

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