End of The Line

The last set of local-music reviews -- for this year

Yes, still more local efforts cross our ears and end up with ink all over them. Thanks for your feedback. Thanks for the music. Thanks for a great year. See ya in '93.

(independent cassette)

One of the biggest cliches in the rock criticism biz is the ol' "band that defies categorization." But XSF is exactly that.

They come with a metal cachet -- long hair, angry vocals, fast and oft-distorted guitars, throb-'til-it-hurts bass -- but they are at once too melodic and too unconventional (on tape, at least) to appeal exclusively to hard-core fans. The lyrics do not aim just for the crotch or celebrate Satan worship, and there are allusions to a certain smokable weed that is not necessarily the drug of choice for headbangers and stage divers.

Unfortunately, trap avoidance, hemp advocacy, and a glimmer of lyrical intelligence are about the extent of XSF's appeal at this stage of the game. The songs all strive to rise above the metal/thrash/hard-core din, and generally avoid sounding like the same old twisted, misogynistic, gothic suicide cult-o-rama crap. But XSF is just not very musically diverting. Not one of their songs is flat-out painful to listen to, but neither do any make much of a lasting impression. Avoiding an overworked genre's traps is one thing, strong songwriting is another story entirely. It is the latter quality that is conspicuously absent from Doodles.

Ho Chi Minh
(independent cassette)

I must be taking the wrong drugs. Or, as the doormouse said, this ain't my cup o' tea.

Be sure that I'm glad the Ho's are back from wherever they were. Be aware that this was tracked at Synch, spawning ground of so much fine music. Be more open-minded than most critics. But also be forewarned that this isn't easy listening, and by that I definitely don't mean it's hard rock.

There's nothing specifically "wrong" with this four-song effort -- the playing's skillful, the songwriting earnest, the passion present. But there are few occasions where the trio employs a standard time, typical hook, hummable melody, or solid backbeat. It's all texture, thick and webby, like a big bowl of goo you can sort of fall into. "Wishbone" is the only song that sounds like an actual song, and not a bad one, either, with a juicy hook and pleasant groove. The tape as a whole is probably brilliant, risk-taking, frontier-seeking new music. If you're taking the right drugs.

Mr. Red, White, Blue
(Granat Records CD and cassette)

There's that candy-apple red Strat hanging on the wall, standing out against all the other guitars. You pull it down, frantically dig through your pockets for a pick, and plug into the nearest amp. You flip the pick-up switch, set the tone-bass-volume, and you strum that first chord. Ah! You expected the sound to be great, and it was.

When you check out a local band and see a nice package -- the "right" equipment and image -- you can't assume the sound's going to match the look. In fact, most of the time they sound like an Epiphone, the low-end copy of a Fender.

Farrcry have dropped the glam sham, set their tone, and turned up the power with their new release, Mr. Red, White, Blue. Produced by University of Miami grad Paul Trust (no stranger to mixing high-quality local sounds), Farrcry are also the sole artists on Granat Records. And while the result is commercial pop with an emphasis on soft-ballad frameworks, the title track is the real hook, a song that captures the spirit of local rock. It begins with a vintage, classic-rock guitar sound much like the one associated with Nirvana, before breaking into a hard-hitting wave crested by the clean-to-crunchy ax work of Craig Martin. The bonus that makes it so catchy is the addition of rapped lyrics. Not a typical sound, more like the deep voice on Steve Vai's "Little Green Men" from Flexible. Perfect for WSHE-FM's local-show Top 10.

"Walking the Dog" is the band's cover version, not of Aerosmith -- the tune originated with blues singer Rufus Thomas. They do it justice, courtesy of great vocals and groovy guitars. Nonetheless, the rhythm section of Randy LaPierre (bass) and Eli Facuseh (drums) is the backbone of this quintet, and they really shine on "Dog."

For his part Martin comes up with guitar riffs that don't overpower the other instruments so much as they fill gaps. That approach is indicative of Farrcry's knack for teamwork, making this a group effort in the truest sense. The drawback: You really would like to know what Martin might have in his bag of tricks. Staying within the confines of the songs muzzles him. Maybe that's a hold-some-back ploy to get you out to their live shows.

The band has opened for Firehouse, Babylon A.D., and Saigon Kick, and here they fit in with those headliners' sounds. "Mirror, Mirror" and "I'll Be the One" are the sort of slow rock you might expect to find on the flip side of Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." The commerciality doesn't seem to bother the members of Farrcry -- singer Mark Christian says, "We write what we feel, we take from our world around us, our influences, and lives. If people don't like our style of music, don't listen."

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