Lots of well-produced, spiffily packaged CDs make up the bulk of this month's belated local-music roundup. Still, my favorite thing this time out is a low-fi, low-budget tape with a handmade cover. What does that mean? I don't know, but it sure makes me happy.
If you want to send something for me to listen to, address it to my attention in care of New Times, Box 011591, Miami, FL 33101. And high-tech types can e-mail me to their hearts content at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
SC, Trevor Loads Down (no label, cassette). Not to overstate things, but this is one of the screwiest things I've heard in a while -- an idiosyncratic blast of weirdness from a Fort Lauderdale quartet I'd known previously in name only (although the press material tells me they released a tape called Now It Hurts sometime last year). Now that I've heard them, I'd like to know more, for this twelve-song tape offers a find chunk of oddball bash-and-bang that pushes some of my favorite musical buttons. The vocalist (and I don't know which one, since all four members contribute vocals) uses his voice more like a sonic instrument than a tool for intelligible communication. The effect is reminiscent of Pere Ubu's David Thomas circa The Modern Dance. I'll be damned if I can make out even a verse's worth of lyrics; mostly, all I can pick out are random snatches -- "you can feel it," "new dance rage," "sitting on a dog's head/it's an eye for an eye." Amid the lead ranter's babble, blurt, and bleat, I hear bits of free-jazz freak-out, no-wave skronk, and experimental sputter and drone, with scrambled guitars howling in distorted cacophony and drums thumping and tapping with incessant determination. Whether you hear them as whacked-out visionaries or self-indulgent dick-offs, SC throw down one hell of a head-scratching brand of noise. And they even have their own dance -- the Squag -- which I don't want to learn but would love to see in action. (SC, 5451 NE 22nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308)
Marc Vee, Speaking in Sounds (VM Records, compact disc). Light, innocuous, mostly instrumental pieces from an impressive six-string technician who can do the do on both acoustic and electric guitar. Capable of intricate fretboard runs that will probably drive guitar-heads something resembling wild, Vee nevertheless lacks a distinct voice or a backing band worthy of the finest picking here ("Recuerdo"). Bland to the point of irritation, Vee's backing players turn Speaking in Sounds into a sonic slab of wallpaper worthy of either a hotel lounge or a cruise ship, depending on where you like to take your mindless instrumental doodles. Me, I usually take mine to the used CD store. (VM Records, P.O. Box 960864, Miami, FL 33296-0864)
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Johnny Dread, Scarecrow (no label, compact disc)
H.I.M. Orchestra, I Music (Sanctuary, compact disc). I love reggae, I swear I do. Of the piles and piles of CDs and albums that clutter my apartment, a good chunk of them contain Jamaican-generated sounds -- ska adn rock-steady anthologies, ace multiartist, genre-spanning surveys such as Trojan's old Creation Rockers series, mounds and mounds of Toots and the Maytals, Big Youth, Augustus Pablo, and Bob Marley. And I'm even starting to come around to some newer reggae (although I won't name names just yet; too soon to be sure, really). Nevertheless, there are two things I just can't wrap my ears around: white guys singing in phony Jamaican accents, and anyone singing reggae surrounded by passionless synthesizers and sterile, groove-less drum machines. It's my shortcoming, I know, just as I know that I'm in the minority on both points. And that's fine. You work with your shortcomings and I'll work with mine.
That said, anyone with a penchant for non-Jamaicans singing reggae over synthesized backing tracks will no doubt find something they like in Johnny Dread's well-done debut, which collects some of the wildly popular singer's originals as well as a reggae-fied cover of Tommy Roe's "Dizzy" (honest). I Music, on the other hand, is a mess -- a scatter-shot hodgepodge of electronic atmospheria, fake applause, and muddled Rastafarian ideology that's as ambitious as it is unlistenable. It's hard to pick the album's low mark, but if pinned down, I'd say the nadir can be found somewhere in the listless version of the Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain." (Johnny Dread, c/o Alexis Promotions, 6301 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 200, Miami, FL 33138; H.I.M. Orchestra, www.himorch.com)
Maria, Maria (MR compact disc). Moody, atmospheric, and sometimes symphonic metal-tinged rock from a quartet who, unlike angst-rock scavengers from Stone Temple Pilots on down, recall the quieter side of latter-day Pearl Jam (definitely not a bad thing where I'm concerned). Maria's self-titled, self-released debut clocks in at just under a half hour, but it flows like a masterfully programmed long player. "Bleed (Secret Name)" builds to a gripping melodic climax without exploding all over Dan Feiszli's winding bass line or the layered vocals of Michael Roderick, making for a few minutes of tightly coiled tension I played three times straight. Once past it, I found "Baby, You're a Star (Trippin' Out)," on which the band manages to harness the supple rhythmic charms of Seventies-era funk-rock without turning the groove into a dumb-ass retro cartoon. And if you think it's easy, you haven't seen What It Is. (no address, but call the band at 305-839-5284)