Keane, the Redwalls and the Zutons
Relentlessly melodic and aggressively catchy, Keane brings pure, unadulterated piano pop into the 21st century. Tom Chaplin's strong, clear voice -- at times eerily reminiscent of Freddie Mercury -- soars over dominant piano and authoritative drums, making for a mix that's utterly familiar and yet not annoyingly derivative. The British trio's debut album, Hopes and Fears, is a thoughtful, well-produced Cadbury egg of a pop album that, while not profound, is memorable and fun. "Somewhere Only We Know," "This Is the Last Time" and "Bend and Break" offer irresistible hooks and lyrics about concluding relationships and changing friendships.
Two potential show-stealers lurk on the undercard. First, there's Liverpool's blues-infused Zutons (see Rotation, January 13). And then there's the Redwalls, who sound an awful lot like Liverpool's most famous sons, the Beatles. Every article written about this suburban Chicago quartet will contain some permutation of the above statement, and those articles are not completely wrong. But since most bands "kinda, sorta" sound like the Beatles anyway, what's the big deal? The boys in the Redwalls weren't even alive when John Lennon was shot, but they've nailed the rootsy, reverb-heavy sound of early rock and roll. Consider the multiple transatlantic ironies: The Beatles learned about twang from Carl Perkins and Everly Brothers records in the '60s, and in 2004 some Midwestern teens have inherited the same sound, only filtered through four Liverpudlians. Meanwhile, young Liverpudlians are still soaking up the sounds of the American South and re-exporting them back to America. -- Kate Richardson and Christian Schaeffer
Keane, the Redwalls, the Zutons, Landfall, the Oots, Sound Theory, Belville, Long Beach Shortbus, Los Skarnales, Cattle decapitation, Suffocation, behenoth, Braced for Nails, earlimart, Pedro the Lion
Wednesday, January 26, at the Meridian, 1503 Chartres, 713-225-1717.
Landfall, the Oots, Sound Theory and Belville
Good young power-pop bands are hard to find. Too often, youthful musicians try so hard to cram the whole world into every note of every song that they forget about the audience. The twin-guitar power trio Landfall doesn't make that mistake -- pleasant songs come before grand, sweeping statements, and clever arrangements win out over virtuosity in their clattery, hook-packed Weezer-like pop. They don't want you to feel their pain, they just want you to have fun. If Landfall's a sunny-Saturday-afternoon-in-the-park of a band, then Belville is an after-hours-at-the-hole-in-the-wall-bar type of group, as menacing and boozy as Landfall is engaging and caffeinated. Sound Theory -- whose members are acolytes at the My Bloody Valentine/Jason Pierce/Jesus and Mary Chain temple -- is also on the bill, as are the Oots, an alternately droning and crackling indie rock band with occasional roots-rock guitar flourishes. Between them, these four bands promise to constitute a big part of Houston's underground rock scene for the second half of the first decade of the 21st century, so a ticket to this show is akin to a quick gander into the scene's crystal ball. -- John Nova Lomax
Friday, January 21, at Super Happy Fun Land, 2610 Ashland, 713-880-2100.
Long Beach Shortbus, with Los Skarnales
Comprising former members of Sublime -- whose singer Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose in 1996 -- and its spin-off band Long Beach Dub All Stars, Long Beach Shortbus has alienated a few of the old-school fans of those bands by updating the patented Sublime sound. Singer Ras 1 recently took on the haters on the LB Shortbus message board, the ones who accused him and his band of playing too much "gay rock" and not enough "punk/reggae/hip-hop combinations." "You know, to tell you the truth, I love that shit. I loved it back in the old days, and I still love it," he wrote, referring to the Sublime sound. "I guess it would be 'SAFER' to put out a more 'Sublime'-style record. Hell, that would keep all of the record executives happy, and everyone who is afraid of a little goddamned pesky 'CHANGE.' Well, to tell you the truth, I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I just beat myself to death, and ran my friend, Bradley Nowell's, beautiful style of music into the fucking ground trying to please everybody else that can't fucking take a risk and listen to something else." All right then, just what is this "something else" that's got the haters quaking and the record execs so peeved? From that "gay rock" crack, you'd expect it to sound like Erasure or the Scissor Sisters or something, but no, it sounds to me more like the same old hard-nosed ska-punk of yore, albeit a variant doused in Red Hot Chili Pepper sauce. Ras 1 is a vocal dead ringer for Anthony Kiedis, and Long Beach Shortbus has the same sort of stewed and tattooed rough-and-tumble streets of blue-collar L.A. appeal the Chili Peppers, and hell, Sublime too, once cornered the market on. Imagine "Under the Bridge" with a ska beat. If that prospect doesn't fill you with dread, you'll dig this show. -- John Nova Lomax
Saturday, January 22, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak Drive, 713-862-3838.
Cattle Decapitation, with Suffocation, Behemoth and Braced for Nails
Given its vile lyrics ("Human feces I season with morning eye crust and navel lint"), outlandish onstage antics (singer Travis Ryan has regurgitated yogurt and donned a mask made of beef jerky) and unappetizing album art (Humanure looks like it sounds, only much, much worse), Cattle Decapitation seems like the type of band whose dinner-party invitations might "accidentally" end up in the trash.
But this gore-metal group can be trusted in the kitchen. It brings to mind the "Treehouse of Horror" episode in which the Simpsons discover that, all along, the aliens just wanted to fix them some food. Blow some dust off the band's To Serve Man CD cover, and it reads To Serve Veggie Meals for Man.
Well, no. Actually, the title track says: "Men, women and children shall be strung / Sliced from hands to feet / Innards save for a tasty treat / And beaten profusely to tenderize the meat / Choice cuts from the slaughter / Husband, mother, daughter / Dead families kept together / Their hides made into leather."
Like most of Cattle Decapitation's material, vegetarianism is taken to antihuman extremes. Musically, the group travels to an equally remote end of the spectrum. All jackhammer jolts, bludgeoning breakdowns, treadmill-set-to-death drumbeats and straight-razor riffs, with robust rhythms that rattle rib cages and vocals that approximate projectile vomiting, the group's choppy songs embrace the most brutal aspects of various virulent heavy-music subgenres.
Early records such as Human Jerky and Homovore took a traditional animal-rights stance, spelling out slaughterhouse atrocities and declaring meat to be repugnantly unhealthy. In disgusting detail, Cattle Decapitation described foul stenches and oozing bodily fluids, savage strikes to the senses that could make Ronald McDonald switch to bean curd. On To Serve Man and Humanure, Cattle Decapitation loses patience and decides to massacre mankind. The lyric sheets resemble cannibal cookbooks.
Cattle Decapitation ends Humanure with nine minutes of unspeakably ominous noise from a slaughterhouse floor. Like the most haunting horror films, it's menacing because of what it leaves to the imagination. All the track reveals is an eerie industrial clamor, some sickly squishing and an occasional anguished yowl. But the mental picture it conjures is even worse than the group's grotesque satirical scenarios.
Though it ends on a sobering note, Humanure isn't without comic relief. Cattle Decapitation draws humor from its subject matter (the human-roadkill rant "Pedeadstrians"), wry wordplay ("Trying to grab your gas mask / An uneasy task / When your pubis is dismembered from your abdomen") and fluent ventures into office-speak ("Your request for a pleasant death has been denied") and infomercialese ("The human / So many uses / Once drained of its juices / Perfect for home, boat or office").
But even more absurd than the group's lyrics is the fact that many fans take them at face value.
"Some people actually think we have something against animals," Ryan says. "Like, they'll walk up to us and say, 'Fuck, yeah, decapitate them fuckin' cows!' "
Although the group's pitch-black wit is refreshing, its nonfiction adherence to its antihuman stance is even more compelling. Lurking behind the songs' slasher movie-style stage blood is Ryan's belief that the world would be a harmonious utopia without humanity's interference. Slipknot's cosmetic nihilists use the slogan "People equal shit" to foster us-against-them camaraderie with their self-esteem-starved "maggot" fans. Ryan posits the same equation as the ultimate solution to earth's crisis. When people are nothing but fertilizer, a fate he believes to be inevitable, nature will reign.
"They're trying to give the kids something to identify with," Ryan says of Slipknot and its ilk. "I'm actively alienating everyone who walks around on two legs. My angle is more like 'I hate you, and there's nothing you can do to redeem yourself.' "
Dig in! -- Andrew Miller
Tuesday, January 25, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-5263.
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Earlimart and Pedro the Lion
If the California indie rock realm were a high school, you might say that Earlimart's main man, Aaron Espinoza, was being primped for the position of prom king. After establishing himself as the go-to production/recording don of Los Angeles's east side -- by means of running with the likes of Grandaddy, the Breeders, Folk Implosion and the late Elliott Smith -- Espinoza caused a splash with 2003's Everyone Down Here, and sustained it with a diet of steady touring back and forth between the coasts. While his band's latest, Treble & Tremble, continues in the same soft-sung, psychedelic pop manner found on Everyone, what results is a more personal, tender record, dealing with themes of loss and alienation: Espinoza's proximity to Smith is clear throughout, and the record is admittedly about episodes leading up to and surrounding his death. But regardless of the tragic attachments, the string-laden codas, juicy acoustics and subtle electro-drums interrupted by the occasional Ringo-fill make for a stunning album.
Sticking with the high school theme, Pedro the Lion front man David Bazan would be the -- what exactly? -- Young Life president? Naah, he'd be a band geek and founder of the C.S. Lewis fan club. Still, it's another literatus, namely Arthur Miller, who seems to have had a hand in shaping the cast of Pedro the Lion's latest, Achilles Heel, full as it is of gambling-addict husbands, faithless lovers and joyless amputees. It's a dour crew, all brought to life through Bazan's just-secular-enough-to-sell coo and midtempo balladeering that nearly evoke (gasp) a B-list Coldplay. The gems ("A Simple Plan," "Discretion") pit uplifting melodies against lyrical melancholy, and eschew Bazan's usual God-fearing parables for blurry impressionism. Even when Bazan takes to the pulpit in "Foregone Conclusions" ("You were too busy...to hear the voice of the spirit begging you to shut the fuck up"), the slowed vocals distract from his proselytizing. This subtlety makes for an evocative (if mixed) set of messages, without the Sunday-school aftertaste. Thank God. -- Abigail Clouseau and Nate Cavalieri
Sunday, January 23, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-5263. Early show: Doors open at 2 p.m.