At the suggestion of a friend, this week's column was going to be a breakdown of the ten best and worst locally produced albums/cassettes/compact discs of 1996. The best-of thing was easy to compile -- Kreamy 'Lectric Santa's Music For Meditation, Relaxation and the Imminent Overthrow of All World Governments, Sixo's Rescue, Harry Pussy's Ride a Dove, the reissue of Quit's debut, the ill-fated Fay Wray disc, Nil Lara, Amanda Green's debut, and so on. Then I started digging through the piles and piles of rejects (I keep all the local stuff, no matter how good or bad) and it was just too much. Take a listen to Lawton's Way Back When and you'll hear what I mean. So instead you get the usual overview of good stuff, bad stuff, and stuff in between. If you want to send me something to listen to, address it to my attention at New Times, P.O. Box 011591, Miami, FL 33101.
Amanda Green, Junk and Stuff (Y&T Music compact disc). Because my tastes in eccentric vocalists lean more toward Blind Willie Johnson than Victoria Williams, I was put off initially by singer-songwriter Amanda Green's pinched, little-girl pipes, just as her dry, sardonic wit had me thinking a little too much of Liz Phair (to whom, fair or not, Green will probably forever be compared). Stick with it, though, and Junk and Stuff creates its own little world, with Green's idiosyncratic songwriting actually gaining strength from the peculiarities of her voice (check the phrasing on the sharp rocker "Way Out," for instance). Anyone who's heard her home-recorded stuff will be pleased to discover that she's lost nothing in the transition to the high-tech confines of Criteria: There's a delicacy to this guitar-driven music -- produced wonderfully by Green -- that propels the best stuff here, from "Pretty" to "Make It Right." What a fine album. (Y&T Music, 1755 NE 149th St., Miami, FL 331881)
To Live and Shave in L.A., Helen Bute vs. Masonna Pussy Bad Smell (Full Contact/Fifth Colvmn compact disc). Call this noise if you want and I sure won't argue. But writing it off as such would be to miss the sense of fun and good-natured insanity that earmarks nearly everything on this 37-cut paint-peeler. Just listen to "The Ass God," on which former Miami guy Tom Smith wails like he's passing a kidney stone the size of Delaware, while a dense layer of guitar, bass, and who knows what else -- concocted by still Miami guys Rat Bastard and Ben Wolcott -- squeals furiously. I mean, this stuff is funny -- slap your leg, grab your stomach, laugh-out-loud funny. The cacophonous roar on "Shit if They Hit" just slays me, from Smith's wordless babble to the high-pitched whine of what sounds like a shortwave radio gone berserk. And throughout the whole thing voices babble, blurt, and scream while tape loops, drums, guitars, and myriad effects screech, squeal, and bang in a hair-raising melange that scares the crap out of my cats every time I play it in the apartment. Sure, it's too long, and sure, it never rises above the similar experiments of the Japanese noise titan referenced in the last half of the album title. Still, Helen Bute vs. Masonna Pussy Bad Smell is one hell of a crazed ride. (Fifth Colvmn, P.O. Box 787, Washington, D.C. 20044)
Trophy Wife, Tall Chicks (no label, cassette). What's the difference between low-fi production and a plain ol' lousy mix? I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty certain that the former at best enhances what's going on in the music (e.g., Guided by Voices' Bee Thousand) while the latter simply buries everything (e.g., the Heartbreakers' L.A.M.F.). The maiden offering from Karen Feldner's Trophy Wife opens with what may or may not be a good song; it's hard to tell because everything's muffled to the point of distraction, save some nice guitar tinkles from Joel Schantz and the incessant tick-tock of a drum machine. The remaining five songs are presented in relatively clear fidelity, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your tolerance for neopsychedelic pop ("Alien"), jokes about ultra-skilled home-ec artisans ("Martha Stewart"), or rants against leggy models ("Tall Chicks"). Myself, I find the neopsych interesting mostly for the big-guitar explosion in the center of what's a pretty nicely arranged rocker, just as I wince at the Scandal-worthy pop that carries the not-so-funny jokey one. And if you think I'm a jerk for not rallying behind a well-aimed dart thrown at the tall, vacuous, and beautiful, I'll say this: I wouldn't like it any better if it was pint-size pub titan Graham Parker bitching about "Tall Guys." Feldner's got a nice voice, though. (954-458-9932)
The Boone Docks, Marshland (Late Night Music compact disc). Dark rock and thinking-student's angst, with dramatic and whiny vocals, layers and layers of acoustic and electric guitars, and minor chords galore. What's wrong, don't college kids have fun any more? Somebody get these guys drunk, fast. (Late Night, 9851 NW Sixth Pl., Plantation, FL 33325)
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The Smartys, Jenny X (RKP compact disc). At its best, this Miami Beach quintet pulls off an interesting kind of country rock kissed by the fatalism that marks the work of Son Volt and the Scud Mountain Boys, with a sighing, weary ambiance that sort of reminds me of Velvet Underground on its last legs (1969 Live). On "Cold Water Holds Me" and "Scream Love," Smartys main man R. King Perrin sounds like a man exhausted, the timbre of his voice more evocative than his words, which at times aim for high poetry but most often simply set moods. (Sometimes pretentious moods at that; witness "Gun Grey.") The title cut burns slowly to an understated Crazy Horse rhythm as filtered through Pearl Jam, with a noble lyric about pollution and government corruption, while "Scream Love" sports a percussion-and-vocal arrangement that reminds me of a fey and delightful late-Sixties folk-psych group I can't quite place. Ditto the piano coda tacked on to the end of "Killed on Monday." Even better is the hidden cut that pops up a couple minutes after the last song fades out, which features just Perrin and his guitar and a vocal that captures a kind of bombed, late-night melancholy I always find useful. (R. King Perrin, 1051 Michigan Ave., Apt. 4, Miami Beach, FL 33139)
-- By John Floyd