Houston Music


First things first, goldenARM is not Machowagon Pt. II. Where dune*TX's last record took the elephantine bombast of stoner rock and gave it a popped-out, surf sort of feel -- raising the band to new heights in the process -- the new CD reverses that process by taking indie rock and retro-fitting it with balls. This should not, however, be read to imply heaviness. Rather, the balls that goldenARM lets hang are those of lyrical directness and musical clarity, two oft-missing elements in garage rock land.

So don't let disc-opener "Go" fool you. All driving rhythm, open guitar strings, "c'mons" and "get downs," it's the only track on this disc that could have been lifted from its older brother. "SickNTired," meanwhile, takes an airy, summery Pumpkins guitar sound, attaches Built to Spill's rhythmic sensibilities and tells a tale of amphetamine-induced mental and physical decline.

Perhaps goldenARM's strongest passage, however, begins with the title track -- one of the best ever windows into the compulsive -- and goes through "Mos Eisley" and "To The Moon." The fact that these are also the CD's three longest songs is coincidental. Bigger very rarely makes better in the world of pop music. What sets dune*TX apart is their classic/epic approach to songwriting, these days a rare tack indeed. Ebbs and flows are not only allowed but encouraged, and create tangible atmosphere along the way. And the vocals have a warmth that makes them feel as if they're coming from right next to you, rather than through a billion different processors. They paint pictures of familiar human stumblings and aspirations.

"Hush Hush Club" is goldenARM's single-in-waiting. A thin staccato guitar line underpins the tale of a girl's "friends" who help keep her wandering ways secret. "Hush..." also serves as the perfect segue into the disc's closing couplet of "All About You" and "This Mess," two songs with just enough guitar jangle and vocal twang -- not to mention love-worn lyrics -- to brush the borders of alt-country.

On goldenARM, dune*TX has turned in its best performance to date, both individually and as a unit. Chris Sacco's voice is stronger and smoother than ever, while the guitars are pulled just far back enough from "kill" to allow some air in. Tim Hermann (drums) and Rusty Guess (bass), meanwhile, sound more at home than ever.

Two things hold goldenARM back. One is "The Kids," a mind-numbingly cliched nod toward youth, unfortunately sequenced as the second track. The other is the feeling that something truly great is coming next. Maybe they'll go further down the indie path? Maybe further into alt-country? Or maybe, just maybe, into the noise-pop explored on the hidden track "The Greatest." In any case, goldenARM leaves the future wide open, and looking very good indeed.

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Chris Smith