I don't care if, with this CD, Chicago's the Jesus Lizard has moved away from longtime indie home-label Touch and Go and invited cries of sellout from the indie minions. Let 'em cry. I don't care if vocalist David Yow has finally taken the opportunity to sing, rather than just scream, and I don't even care that half the time he's singing, he sounds more like Johnny Rotten than John Lydon ever did. I don't care that the band has spent major label money to spit shine its corporate production values, and I don't care that it's titled yet another album with yet another single-syllable, four-letter name. I just don't care because such things would only matter if Shot didn't do what the Jesus Lizard has done, one way or another, on every last one of its prior seven albums and in every last one of its countless live shows. That thing is this: the Jesus Lizard rocks. All the components are in place. Yow's lyrics are either confrontationally obscure or downright scary, and both modes work with his cracked yelp. "Threphination" tracks a long-distance suicide call before the less whacked party shuts off the conversation with a chilling, "Now calm yourself down / It's really not up to me to be there when you want me to be there / How can I make myself more clear?"
He can't. And neither can guitarist Duane Denison, who continues his choppy ascent to underrated godhood with a monster history-of-rock solo on "Too Bad About the Fire." Beneath it all rumbles the rhythm section of drummer Mac McNeilly and bassist David Wm. Sims -- a bottom-feeding churn of propulsive beats so strong it's tempting to forget about the Jesus Lizard, great rock band, and start thinking about the Jesus Lizard, great dance band. The beautiful thing is, the Jesus Lizard is both. -- Brad Tyer
Reject All American
Kill Rock Stars
When the whole riot grrrl thing got ripped apart and played out, a lot of the bands that had ridden this great publicity gift horse to widespread recognition were suddenly left standing without a musical identity. While we'd heard all about the new feminist lyrics, relatively little attention had been paid to the songs. In Bikini Kill's case, things had been so focused on lead singer/riot grrrl figurehead Kathleen Hanna's mouth that few noticed how inconsistent her band could be. But with three years since its debut CD, Pussy Whipped, Bikini Kill has had loads of time to remedy that problem. Reject All American, the group's new 12-song, 27-minute spurt, reveals a refined punk band with increased clarity, competence and expanded range. While the band's heart still lies in the sneering brat-punk of the Sex Pistols and X-Ray Spex, the band also takes a stab at airy, hooky guitar rock ("False Start") and classic new wave pop (the title track's Go-Go's chorus). They even drop a trumpet and xylophone into the mix. Still, it's Hanna's words and vocals that have matured most. It's enough to make you proud: just look at how our little grrrl has grown. -- Roni Sarig
Despite a pleasant first impression, Billy Mann's self-titled debut is ultimately an unsatisfying collection of gentle, acoustic-based pop rock. Though Billy Mann is rife with strong melodies, none are powerful enough to support the bland lyrics, singing and production. Unable, as yet, to develop a distinctive voice, Mann substitutes hollow trickery and convenient cliches for true singer/songwriter marksmanship. Granted, it's not easy to combine folky introspection with crafty accessibility. But while Mann flirts with lyrical and musical substance, he never quite nails it. Furthermore, Ric Wake's production is lightweight and glossy, giving the CD an unwelcome Amy Grant-ish feel. Billy Mann offers the smooth, easy sound of diluted potential. -- Gerard Choucroun
Billy Mann opens for Sophie B. Hawkins Tuesday, May 21, at Rockefeller's.
Chamber Works, Vol. 5
Sometimes, rooting around in the CD bins, you come across a surprise; this new recording of little-known Czech composer Ervin Schuloff, who died in a Nazi prison camp in 1942, is one of them. Schuloff was a man who let his true Dada show, and this selection of works from the teens and the twenties is a reminder to all the punks out there that strangely interesting things have been going on in music a lot longer than they might imagine.
Schuloff's melodies often soar in natural, uncontrived splendor. One piece here, the Divertissement for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon, adds a Charleston among other more traditional markings to its short, two-minute movements. The "Bassnachtigall," a bassoon solo written in 1922 but not discovered until 1980, offers more unusual fodder. Poetic, yet drawing from the classical, its lines excel in both lyricism and freedom of phrasing. And in the Sonata Germanica, the pianistic accompaniment sounds like an atonal flag burning in abstract, with impossibly rapid-fire, staccato percussion bursts.