SARGE, Distant (Mud) "We're an indie band because we want to be, not because we can't do any better," Elizabeth Elmore of the late Milwaukee

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Sarge, Aqua, and Green Velvet

SARGE, Distant (Mud) "We're an indie band because we want to be, not because we can't do any better," Elizabeth Elmore of the late Milwaukee band Sarge told The Chicago Reader last year, and the three new songs on this farewell prove it conclusively. "The End of July" goes on my next mix tape right after Built to Spill's "Untrustable," whose riffery it closely resembles. The Sarge song's lyrics are another matter entirely: "I thought a few months apart might keep us together/But at the end of July all my plans changed/And I've never been good at distance/But I'm getting better." True, Elmore's simple tunes and complicated emotions are better displayed on 1998's The Glass Intact, five of whose songs are reprised here. But while these live versions don't significantly differ from their studio originals, they're just as worthy of revisiting, and although Elmore's voice is a little too thin to do "Last Christmas" or "Time After Time" complete justice, I'll take her version of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" over Nancy Sinatra's in a heartbeat. So bid a fond goodbye to a near-great band that would almost certainly have gotten better—and cross your fingers for law student Elmore's now part-time solo career.—Michaelangelo Matos

AQUA, Aquarius (MCA) When the first Aqua disc came out, I was living with a friend and his 6-year-old daughter. She wasn't exactly digging my Drop Dead albums, and I could only stomach about three seconds of Spice Girls before starting a pudding and Nilla Wafer fight. Aqua was our compromise (hey, she was six). We blasted Aquarium all day and night and jumped on the couch and sang all the words together. After being asked by my friend to stop retarding the normal development of his child and to get my own apartment, I even went out and bought my own copy, which would've remained my dirty little secret if I hadn't made everyone unlucky enough to need a ride in my car listen to it over and over as payback. So now that it's a matter of public record that the first album rocks and that I was actually excited to get my hands on the new album, Aquarius, let me say this: Aquarius is stupid. So damn stupid. Stupid isn't even the word for it. Asinine, sottish, insensate. God, is it dumb. Songs about being stuck in a country song, the circus, visiting Mars, Halloween. Except for a few '80s-ish pop ballads, every song is run through the Aqua machine: the 1,2,3,4 dance bass drum, the overblown production, the inevitable chorus where the title of the song is repeated four times—then the break—then back into the song. Aquarius stinks of My Bloody Valentine Syndrome: one day of recording/two years of production. Unfortunately, the final product isn't quite as fetching as MBV—more like feltching. Have I covered everything? The annoying, cartoonish "singing;" the bad accents; the painful lyrics; the stupid album art; the one booming voice that can only be coming from a bald European in a sweat-soaked raincoat clutching a handful of Dutch S&M magazines. Um, offensive to all the senses, an embarrassment to the human race, vomit-inducing, the case against a unified Europe, the Seventh Sign, and wrong, wrong, wrong. Now all I need is a

little brat running around so I can have someone to blame for the fact that I can't stop playing it. La la la . . .—Mark Driver

GREEN VELVET, Green Velvet (F-111) "Hi Velvet, this is Tamiqua . . . I wanted to say thank you for the engagement ring . . . but the baby's not yours, so you don't have to worry about it." So starts the string of warped messages on the track "Answering Machine," which also includes calls from an eviction-bearing landlord and a Psychic Friends Network consultant who sneers, "Your life is over." Such self-deprecating humor runs through Green Velvet's (a.k.a. Curtis Jones and Cajmere) self-titled anthology of dark house. None of these tracks are new: "Flash," a guided tour through "Club Bad," where parents can "take pictures of . . . bad little kiddies doing bad little things," hit the dance floors in '95. Another club fave, "The Stalker"—in which the narrator announces "I tried to follow you the other day, but unfortunately my car ran out of gas"—slipped into DJs' record crates in '96. These and other tracks scrape the floors of after-hours dance clubs and share the resulting paranoia, dementia, and backstabbing with a wry grin. Nevermind the nightmarish narratives; on "Water Molecule" the spooky synth-line and snapping drumkicks alone are enough to scare the bejeezus out of a club casualty coming down off a noseful of crystal bumps. What's intriguing about Velvet is the way they take a genre that usually offers uplifting, diva-delivered escapism, and yank it down to the lowest, grittiest level of realism—and somehow, still carve a smile.—David Massengill

 
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