AUTOMATIC 7, Beggar's Life (Vagrant) Any self-respecting punk writing about a friend mired in the abyss of heroin abuse should know not to make the>"/>
AUTOMATIC 7, Beggar's Life (Vagrant) Any self-respecting punk writing about a friend mired in the abyss of heroin abuse should know not to make the song too, uh, happy . . . right? That's what's bizarre about Automatic 7's "Syringe," and one of too many problems with this well-meaning trio's second full-length. I say well-meaning because despite the appropriated "au- thentic" snarling, the dangerous-as-a-car-commercial power chords, and the Blink 182-meets-Silverchair production value, there's some good storytelling in here waiting for a SWAT team liberation. You can tell by the titles ("Had It All," "All They Can Steal") and the what-the-hell-is-happening-to-us lyrics that lead singer John Hulett sincerely cares about what he's saying. Automatic 7 try to paint a desperate, tangled picture of crappy acquaintances, crappy summers, and crappy relationships, but the bounce of their sing-along, radio-friendly choruses dupes us into thinking it's all OK. That can't be their intent; there's no evident sense of humor here. Sonically, they're too rooted in punk's structural tradition to capture anyone but the most stubborn purist's attention. Any heft these songs may carry live (and they may, if the vocals are buried deeply enough) croaks the second you press play. I'm glad this band prides itself on no-nonsense rock, but the flight from A to B could use a little turbulence once in a while.—Andrew Bonazelli
KOOL KEITH, Matthew (Funky Ass/ Threshold) "You can't tell him he needs to make something like everybody else," says a "record executive" about rapper Kool Keith at the beginning of the new "Test Press." "Everybody else is just stealing his originality and ideas, anyway." You expect this kind of self-aggrandizement from Keith; rightly or not, he's claimed the patent on practically every major hip-hop trend since 1996's Dr. Octagon resuscitated his career. But Matthew is exactly what you expect, a big problem for an artist whose calling card is his unpredictability. This isn't always a setback, especially when he delivers drop-dead zingers like the blunt "I Don't Believe You" (the only thing Keith believes is that "You work at 7-Eleven"). But this beat-driven stand-up comedian's routine is wearing thin. The suddenly ubiquitous "faggot" references, which feel excessive even by hip-hop standards, convey a desperation to shock listeners into the attention his oddball flow used to earn on its own, and the beats sound like they were found at a D&D Studios rummage sale. Not only has he done this all better on record before, a perusal of the cover booklet of last year's Black Elvis/Lost in Space demonstrates he's done it better in his liner notes.—Michaelangelo Matos
SAINT LOW, Saint Low (Thirsty Ear) Mary Lorson is one-fourth of Madder Rose, a talented nine-year-old Brill Street outfit that suffered a typical mid-'90s indie fate: They jumped to a major label, alienated a decent portion of their fans, and subsequently became part of a corporate game of hot potato. By the time they found a safe haven at the Cooking Vinyl label in 1999, their characteristic Lower East Side sound had evaporated almost entirely in a swishy haze of watery dream pop. The meandering sounds of Hello June Fool seemed to indicate a more distracted role for their silvery-throated chanteuse and, predictably enough, Lorson began exploring outside artistic endeavors (screenwriting and film scores). In her new project, along with a rotating cast of friends and longtime bandmate Billy Cote, Lorson has finally found a logical space to fully stretch out her beguiling voice. With unfettered arrangements and a minimalist (though hardly lo-fi) production style, the 12 tracks on Saint Low are downbeat and low-key, almost to the point of monotony. The simplicity seems a strength one minute, but then the sinfully sedate tone can wear thin—you may find yourself fantasizing about pulling a tar-textured shot of espresso for the soporific singer. Still, Lorson's delivery is mostly praiseworthy, with a mournful honesty that never sinks to self-pity and remains warmly humane. —Hannah Levin
JETS TO BRAZIL, Four Cornered Night (Jade Tree) Four Cornered Night is one long love song. Ex-Jawbreaker frontman Blake Schwarzenbach is in love with his new band. He is in love with the piano. And he is also in love with the fact that Jets to Brazil has become a band with its own identity. Where its first full-length, Orange Rhyming Dictionary, carried the comfortable vestiges of angry pop-punk, Four Cornered Night challenges the listener, with no apologies, to decide: Depart now or miss the flight. Talented aging punk rockers, like Todd Ashley of Firewater, Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs, and Schwarzenbach, are secure in whatever musical direction they gravitate toward. For Schwarzenbach, and all of Jets to Brazil, this means sincere, piano-infused anthems that are catchy and raspy at the same time. Fans of Jawbreaker will recognize the clever turns of phrase and the hoarse anger; those climbing aboard Jets for the first time will be forced to sing along with a more complex sort of rock. Schwarzenbach starts the song "All Things Good and Nice" with the line "I love my mother . . ." and proceeds to comfortably navigate between self-mockery and sincere admission. One gets the sense that before he would ever descend into platitudes and showmanship, he'd force the plane into a dive and sing a smart, sad farewell to the black box recorder. Jawbreaker need not be mentioned in Jets to Brazil reviews again. This is not emo. This is not pop-punk. This is heartfelt, powerful music, and Four Cornered Night is a great album.—Peter Buchberger
Jets to Brazil play Saturday, September 23 at Graceland.