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The Beat Poets
Neon Fire
(Beat Poets, Inc.)

William Burroughs would be proud of Dennis Britt and company's latest effort. The songs on Neon Fire are a crazy salad of eerie, apocalyptic visions, psychedelic dreams, and jaundiced commentary.

Britt probably emerged from the cradle looking dissipated and sounding world-weary. Neon Fire finds him in typical voice A detached, jaded, omnipotent. As he sings in "Forget Your Name:" "I always wanted something I could taste/Broken all the rules just to play/But lately I'm thinkin' maybe it ain't worthwhile."

"Chills," at three-and-a-quarter minutes, is the shortest cut on the disc as well as the most accessible. Britt's half-Billy Squier, half-David Bowie vocals dance across a thumping rhythm track punctuated by a distorted guitar line vaguely reminiscent of Van Halen's "Jamie's Cryin'." The wall of sound erected by this accomplished trio (in addition to Britt on guitar and vox, the Beat Poets are bassist Mike Wolofsky and drummer Bobby MacIntyre) is thick enough to do double duty as a bank vault.

The song that epitomizes the Beat Poets, however, is the opener, "Zion." Intense and idiosyncratic, while at the same time self-indulgent and too long by nearly half, "Zion" showcases the band at its best and worst. Within the song's seven minutes and twenty seconds there are five minutes of manic, compelling music interspersed with some filler and a repeat of the first verse when the song should be ending. It's testimony to both the Beat Poets's incandescence and their insatiable appetite for sensory excess.

With the exception of "Chills," there is little on Neon Fire to excite AOR or classic-rock radio program directors, and I mean that as a compliment. "Roll the Beat" is heavy enough for metalheads, but the lyrics are too smart and it's not pompous enough to be considered grunge (although the chorus has a "Voodoo Chile" quality). "More Than a Feeling" has nothing in common with the Boston song of the same name other than total disdain for it.

In sum, Neon Fire is a pretty good representation of the band -- precocious, sporadically brilliant, inventive, smug, edgy, and occasionally too smart for its own good. Gotta love it.

Second Coming
(3-song demo cassette)
With the unfortunate breakup of F.O.C., the time is ripe for another local funk-rock-rap band with influences ranging from James Brown and the Chili Peppers to Sly Stone and Arrested Development. Raw B. Jae has been kicking it for a while, filling some of the void, but there's always room for a band that can motivate the feet as well as the intellect.

Enter Second Coming, a young and talented four-piece with UM pedigrees that describes itself as "an ugly band in a beautiful world." They're fronted by Byron Warren, a vocalist equal parts Lenny Kravitz, Terence Trent D'Arby, and Anthony Kiedis. It's a neat trick, this business of sounding familiar without sounding derivative, and Second Coming pulls it off with elan. Chunky-funky guitar riffs with just a hint of jangle, tight drumming, and a solid, propulsive bottom blend seamlessly into the mix while Warren half-raps, half-sings a lament about the number of people looking for a free ride on songs like "Something for Nothing".

While funk music and intelligent lyrics have never been mutually exclusive, rarely have they crossed paths as effortlessly as they do in Second Coming's hands. "Rise up before you fall/I'll hear you call," Warren promises a pregnant friend whose boyfriend has deserted her in "Rise Up." Maturity? Responsibility? In a rock song? Just when you begin to doubt your ears, along comes "Rock Bottom", a tune so radio-friendly it should come gift-wrapped, the most infectious funk single to jump out of the local scene since grape bubblegum reminded F.O.C. of Nancy.

Wet Flower
(4-song demo cassette)
Kathy Fleischmann
Anamorphosis
(7-song demo cassette)

At first listen, Kathy Fleischmann and France Blais (lead vocalist for Wet Flower) would appear to have nothing in common. Fleischmann's music is cerebral, introspective, moody rock while Wet Flower lays on the wah-wah pedal and layers on the funk.

But the two share the same problem -- finding the right niche for their distinctive voices. Fleischmann's singing is quirkier, powerful and dynamic yet occasionally flat or shrill. Her vocals are easier listening than, say, PJ Harvey's, but definitely not conventional. They add just enough spice and offbeat inflection to a tune like "Break Into My Heart" to give it an edge and sear it into your memory banks. The rest of the songs here evidence a more upbeat sound than Fleischmann's last band, Big Tall Wish, but suffer from intermittent lackluster moments where verses just seem to lose momentum waiting for the singer to bail them out with vocal pyrotechnics. Sometimes she pulls it off, other times she doesn't.

Blais is every bit as idiosyncratic as Fleischmann but with less of an ethereal feel and an added dash of Bjork-like pixie squeal. Like her peer's, Blais's vocals are high-powered. You get the sense she could make herself heard over the mix even without a microphone. Wet Flower's appeal is not limited to Blais's pipes; wah-wah heavy guitar grooves share the spotlight. Unfortunately, a little wah goes a long way; after a while the effect becomes monotonous, and the songwriting isn't strong enough to overcome that.

Yet despite their respective shortcomings, both acts have a lot to offer and one overriding shared trait: No one's going to call them mainstream.

 
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