After they were dropped by their first label, 12 Rounds -- the male/female duo of Atticus Ross and Claudia Sarne -- found a creepy kindred spirit of sorts in Trent Reznor, who wound up signing them to his Nothing imprint. It's easy to see what Reznor saw in these sallow Brits: Like the dark prince behind Nine Inch Nails, they immerse themselves in a murky electronic stew thickened by the kind of morose lyrics that give misunderstood teenagers everywhere something worthwhile to scrawl in their journals.
All said and done, though, 12 Rounds seems more interested in luring antisocial youth onto the dance floor than nurturing their self-involved stupor. On its first Nothing release, My Big Hero, the duo delves into a uniquely spooky vibe cut from trip-hop's swanky patchwork. The biggest clue that 12 Rounds isn't your standard shock-by-numbers techno-nightmare: a prominent Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds sample on the disc's closing track. Obviously, this is an act unafraid to take chances with semi-sacred material.
Splicing and dicing genres is a tough business, and yet 12 Rounds invites the bands-in-a-blender tag. Look at it as Goth atmospherics meets punk attitude meets everything else under the sun: spaghetti-western guitars, ominous keyboard drones, chirping synths. The music's malignant life force revolves around Sarne, who exudes just enough lust and anger to throw the whole mess into an unknown and scary place. Indeed, 12 Rounds feeds on refuse from the seedy alleyways and radioactive wastelands of the present and the not-so-distant future. So densely catastrophic is their message that it takes a six-piece live band to duplicate their machine-made house of horrors.
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12 Rounds performs Monday, August 31, at Instant Karma, 1617 Richmond. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $6. VAST and Delicate Terror also perform. For info, call 528-3545.
The Skatalites -- Listening to bad ska is a lot like smoking bad herb: You think you're inhaling primo bud, then, soon enough, the stale buzz sets in. Yet, despite its numbing interchangeability (be honest now, the first time you heard Save Ferris, you thought it was No Doubt), the pop-smeared rag-weed that is today's ska-core movement continues to sucker the masses. Still, at least it's making a more inquiring minority aware of the true originators of the form -- old hands like the Skatalites. Together more than 35 years, these Jamaican groove merchants are the definitive ska architects. Hear it for yourself on their classic 1967 release, Ska Authentic, or their most recent album, Ball of Fire. As any true addict of the genre will tell you, the Skatalites are some good shit. On Saturday, August 29, at Fitzgerald's, 3706 White Oak. Doors 8 p.m. Tickets $11. 862-3838. (Craig D. Lindsey)
Rod Stewart -- The looser-fitting pants he's been wearing of late seem to imply that the era of "Rod the Bod" is long gone, as does his current, very public state of marital bliss. Even so, it's nice to know that Rod Stewart is still quite capable of reeling off a semi-inspired rock-and-roll moment or two between babies. Let's face it: Stewart's latest release, When We Were the New Boys, is the singer's orneriest outing in years, especially in light of the flaccid product he's been glad-handing the public for a bulk of his career since his defining classic-rock moment, 1972's Every Picture Tells a Story. And as he gets older, he continues to fall back on the ragged singing style (perhaps out of necessity) that lent a rugged warmth to his early work. As always, Stewart continues to place fashion sense and technical flash above all else on his latest tour, and he has every intention of delving into his disco-lush past. So you can trust he's still handy with that mike stand. On Wednesday, September 2, at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands. Showtime 8 p.m. Tickets $27.50$125. 629-3700. (Hobart Rowland)