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-- David Simutis

Archers of Loaf
White Trash Heroes
(Alias)

The salient point of Archers of Loaf is their refusal to sign with a major label. From this resistance to the cigar-chomping big leagues flow all the rest of the Chapel Hill quartet's notable particularities: the preposterous band name; the deeply dedicated following; the rousing, hook-laden songs that are as good as anyone's, but more stylized than almost everyone's.

This fourth full-length finds the Archers making predictable moves into synthesized rhythms, spacious instrumentals, and down-tempo, meandering compositions not unlike the kind settled into by the likes of Pavement and Superchunk. Singer Eric Bachman experiments with voicings so different from his characteristic froggy baritone that you won't recognize him on songs such as "Dead Red Eyes" and "I.N.S." Unfortunately, Bachman's recognizability is among his best features. And his very best one, a knack for catchy, yet unique pop melodies, doesn't assert itself on those tracks either.

The spiderlike creeping tune "Slick Tricks and Bright Lights" is more compatible with the band's strengths and the heroic coda of "After the Last" (it actually sounds like a Christmas carol) further advances the notion that this band's best hope of maturing musically is to play the same as they always have, only slower. But that harsh reality has little to do with the ultra-insular, ultra-earnest, ultra-late-phase indie rock scene in which Archers of Loaf exist. Their inability to break out of it is part of the band's charm. Check the vocal-free "Smokers in Love Laugh," a perfectly executed tour of all the genre's most well-worn chord progressions and inter-instrument dynamics, but with a title that shouts "experimental."

White Trash Heroes concludes with its title track, a seven-and-a-half-minute buildup from a poignant keyboard bass riff to a majestically orchestrated refrain that concludes like a summer storm. Arty yet completely lacking artifice, it's a sweepingly ambitious pop song. This is what Bruce Springsteen would still sound like had he never left the Boardwalk. (Alias, 2815 W. Olive Ave., Burbank, CA, 91905.)

-- Adam Heimlich

Henry Rollins
Think Tank
(Dreamworks)

It's a tad weird to think of Henry Rollins as a one-man entertainment empire with a diverse recording career, movie cameos, product endorsements, and a Grammy under his belt (for his last spoken-word disc, Get in the Van). No matter how accepted and awarded he becomes, Rollins still looks like an uncomfortable misfit, his eyebrows burrowing low and intense as if he's not sure where he parked the van.

At this point, of course, he owns the goddamn parking garage. So when, on his new live two-disc spoken word CD Think Tank, he rattles off a few well-directed and obvious barbs at the TV show "Friends" during "Television," the effect isn't quite as powerful as intended. Rollins repeatedly disclaims that he only watches TV during lonely nights in hotel rooms, but he's awfully well-versed. Besides, he's preaching to a converted audience at the House of Blues on his birthday who can only whoop and clap in easy agreement. Rollins's early work was commanding in how it confronted his audience's preconceptions. He grew his hair and slowed the sound down just as punks drew the line between themselves and heavy metal.

Here, Rollins is a comfortable stand-up comedian, letting out enough obscenities to make Lenny Bruce proud and enough humorous anecdotes about daily life to make Jerry Seinfeld nod in knowing conspiracy. Not a bad deal, but a tad weird, wouldn't you say?

-- Rob O'Connor

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