FRANK BLACK AND THE CATHOLICS, Dog in the Sand (What Are Records) Don't come here looking for the Pixies. With the Catholics, Frank Black long ago abandoned his old band's boat-rocking iconoclasm for something far more traditional. They're dogmatic, even, in their rejection of multitracking studio trends in favor of live stereo recordings, in which the whole band (gasp!) have to get it right on the same take without a single postrecording edit. While fans of Black's former band (who were, don't get me wrong, the best band ever) may be confused by his new sound, it's actually a natural progression, with jagged edges and attitude slowly replaced by musicianship and depth. The skewered pop charm of the Pixies is sadly gone; however, the quality of these rambling rock and roll songs—sounding like a new wave Rolling Stones or Big Star covering Jerry Lee Lewis—runs deep, and they unfold with multiple listens. Dog in the Sand's best songs are the ones that are least recognizable: the slow, sad songs with brilliant, smoky organ contributions from PJ Harvey keyman Eric Feldman. Compare Black's old-fashioned methodology with that of "punk" trio Blink-182, whose drummer recently entered the studio alone to record all the drum tracks for an upcoming album, leaving the other two chumps to go in and record their parts. The effort of Black's Catholics pays off with a warm, organic feel that piecemeal recording could never achieve. —Will Comerford
LE TIGRE, From the Desk of Mr. Lady (Mr. Lady) Aside from my husband, no one makes me feel more like a woman than Kathleen Hanna. Whether she's ruling Le Tigre, Bikini Kill-ing, or acting out as Julie Ruin, there isn't hardly a soul that makes me feel more grrly. This seven-song EP, the second Le Tigre release, combines crude electronica, fuzzy punk rock, and political activism. The soapbox is a low-fi beat-box; the instructions couldn't be clearer. The EP's first line calls out, "It feels so '80s, or early '90s/to be political/Where are my friends?" The song fell asleep in the Shangri-Las' hammock but woke up with a start in a postmodern junkyard. When the group chorus screams, "Get off the Internet/I'll meet you in the street," you know Hanna would—and she'd clock Courtney Love in the face once she got there too. The eponymous first record shouted loudly and beautifully at New York's Mayor Giuliani on the track "My My Metrocard," and this time around, with two-thirds of the band calling NYC home, Le Tigre are still Big Apple and badass. The song "Bang! Bang!" jumps in on the attack, using samples of newscasts to drop the names of Patrick Dorismond and Amadou Diallo, two victims of NYPD violence. Lines such as "Bring me Giuliani's head" stab the song like ice picks stuck in a Slurpee, with a low, dirty beat and some screeching samples padding out the sound. Le Tigre continue to ignore lots of the old rules, but none of the ones that Hanna herself put forth—and those might be the only ones that really matter.
CALL AND RESPONSE, Call and Response (Kindercore) Your choices of action when presented with a band like Call and Response are decidedly few. With songs about blowing bubbles, roller-skating, and dreaming in watercolors offered up in wide-eyed, rosy-cheeked fashion, either you can summon Glove, the Apple Bonkers, and your fellow Blue Meanies to run these happy brats out of Pepperland, or you can find a way to get in touch with your own happy brat and smile like a bloomin' loony. All things considered, the latter option isn't terribly difficult. Unlike most of your mittens-and-kittens combos, Call and Response are actually top-notch musicians, accomplished singers, and versatile composers. Bassist Terri Loewenthal in particular pumps vigor into every song with her nimble, percolating bass runs. Though everyone except drummer Jordan Dalrymple contributes to the vocal play, it is keyboardist Carrie Clough who is blessed with the finest pipes, sounding impossibly world-weary at a very young age, like a teenage diva stealing every scene of her high school production of Our Town. Ably produced by Olivia Tremor Control's Bill Doss, Call and Response at first glance seem like a pack of precocious pop kids having a well-rehearsed goof. Yet with each successive listen, the children grow up before your eyes as the sophisticated weight of their playing and arranging takes hold and you find yourself in the presence of something approximating a giddy, playful version of Stereolab. A genuine guilt-free delight.
MISSTRESS BARBARA, Relentless Beats Vol. 1 (Moonshine) Born in Sicily and raised in Montreal, Misstress Barbara spins spare, funked-up techno that honors the "stress" half of her yes-that's-how-it's-actually-spelled name. (Miss Stress—get it?) Her debut DJ-mix CD, Relentless Beats, offers just that. Aside from opening and closing with the sound of her Prada heels walking across what sounds like the as-yet-unfilled dance floor to and from the record decks she's about to work to within an inch of their lives, what we get here for an hour-plus are beats of coiled fury, machine-derived sibilants simulating melody and riff, and overdriven bass lines doing their holding you in place. Is it pleasurable? Depends on how much you feel like being a cog in an incredibly repetitive pleasure machine. Certainly it grew on me. Each listen reveals more texture, and after half a dozen plays, I find myself greeting things like the goose-stepping beat and ghost-of-rave-past ghoul-bass of Deetron's "Silk Cut" and the horn stabs, filtered breakdowns, and repeated "eep"s of Hitoshi Ohishi's "Wriggle (Recycled Loops Remix)," if not like old friends, then like well-regarded acquaintances. Ultimately, though, this is dance-floor music in excelsis: not unreadable off it, but nowhere near as effective anywhere else.
Misstress Barbara plays Club FX Saturday, February 10.