AMERICAN HI-FI, American Hi-Fi (Island) Seven years ago, Bush hypnotized millions of half-wits into believing that anyone could be Kurt Cobain, and a nuclear winter

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CD Reviews

AMERICAN HI-FI, American Hi-Fi (Island) Seven years ago, Bush hypnotized millions of half-wits into believing that anyone could be Kurt Cobain, and a nuclear winter was cast over the heart of alternative music. Today, the poorly named American Hi-Fi (who, to be fair, were lawyered out of the much better moniker BMX Girl) carry on the alterna-sludge mission of making monster guitar palatable for quarterbacks and 13-year-old girls in training thongs everywhere. I was looking forward to this, former Veruca Salt drummer Stacy Jones' solo debut, if for no other reason than it's the third album documenting that underrated band's tumultuous 1997 breakup. Jones knocks boots behind the kit, but in front of a mike, he's a train wreck, a nasal pretty boy who chirps a sad "Yeah!" or "Go!" once in a while to remind you that a played-out bridge is on deck. Their wussy single "Flavor of the Weak"—whose video claws for cred by ripping off Heavy Metal Parking Lot—comes early enough to qualify as innocuous, self-deprecating fun. The rest of the album is taken way, way too seriously, particularly "Hi-Fi Killer," which bemoans (deep breaths, now) "the same old song" on the radio. Hey, Alanis, what does irony mean again? —Andrew Bonazelli

HOT WATER MUSIC, Never Ender (No Idea) Florida's Hot Water Music have released a handful of 7-inches that encompass emo's strengths (effective, euphoric guitar arrangements and refreshingly off-kilter time signatures) and generally avoid its weaknesses (sophomoric diary lyrics and epic-length solos). This disc showcases the best of their catalog over the last six years, compiling several out-of-print singles, B-sides, and set-list staples. The title track demonstrates the band's admirable sense of balance via founding guitarist- vocalist Chuck Ragan's relentless arpeggio chord progressions and plausibly angsty musings about small-town boredom. Disaffected sing-alongs like "Things on a Dashboard" and "Alachua" aren't quite mold-breaking, but the songs' infectious, pogo- inducing cadence is refreshing. The collection also shows off the developing skills of drummer George Rebelo, whose earlier schizophrenic timekeeping eventually gives way to a mature restraint and minimalism—a progression that suitably anchors the guitar work of Ragan and Chris Wollard. The mail-order version includes a bonus second disc of demos and outtakes that is not included in the store version—not exactly polished material, but of interest to completists.—Hannah Levin

Hot Water Music play Wednesday, April 4, at Graceland.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Colonel Jeffrey Pumpernickel—A Concept Album (Off) Since semiretiring from the rock world, ex-Sprinkler and Svelt frontman Chris Slusarenko has devoted his attention to his Portland video store. So it's not surprising that his first musical project in years is this imaginary soundtrack. What's surprising about this concept album, based on Slusarenko's story of a wayward fellow named Pumpernickel, is the collection of marquee indie-rock talent who obliged the organizer's hallucinogenic vision. (He also roped in comic artists such as Peter Bagge, Joe Sacco, and Jim Woodring for the CD booklet, and Richard Meltzer, who wrote liner notes.) Then again, given those involved, it all makes a strange sort of sense; Quasi's "Which Side Are You On, Colonel?" sounds like an outtake from the duo's usual arsenal of bittersweet pop, and Guided by Voices' two entries are typically whimsical and unpolished. Veterans Mary Timony and Howe Gelb also seem at home, using their distinctive voices and styles for the Colonel's cause. Stephen Malkmus' "Blue Rash Intact," is the only departure, with the newly solo singer-guitarist taking a page from Radiohead and messing around with electronics. Even with the ex-Pavementer's postmodern turn, this offbeat disc plays less like an overblown rock opera and more like a compilation featuring some of indiedom's best talents.—Richard A. Martin

A two-night CD release party for Colonel Jeffrey Pumpernickel at the Showbox features Guided by Voices, the Minus 5, and Creeper Lagoon (Friday, March 30), and Quasi, Lou Barlow, and Ann Magnuson with Dave Rick (Saturday, March 31).

SWAG, Catchall (Yep Roc) After a half-dozen spins of the first full-length release from this Nashville all-star band, two things come to mind. First, if you told me that four or five of these cuts were newly discovered Badfinger recordings, I'd believe you. Second, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, who's fashioned himself a pop star for two albums running, must be a bit envious he wasn't asked to join. After all, his band's drummer, Ken Coomer, earned a roster spot in Swag, joining Jerry Dale McFadden (Sixpence None the Richer), Mavericks' bassist Robert Reynolds, Cheap Trick's Tom Petersson, and solo artist Doug Powell for a 12-song tour of well-crafted '70s pop and emotionally charged garage rock. Initial echoes of Pete Ham/Tom Evans are heard first in Powell's infectious "I'll Get By" (cowritten with Bill Lloyd of Foster & Lloyd fame); others come courtesy of the McFadden-Reynolds duet "Please Don't Tell," Powell's orchestral ballad "When She Awoke," and "Ride," a nostalgic car song that asks, "Do you have a favorite Cheap Trick song?/Put it on!" All five members contribute songwriting and vocals, but Reynolds—with McFadden, the band's architect—is the obvious cleanup hitter in this lineup. His McCartney influences rise on both "Near Perfect Smile" and "Different Girl" (sung by the Mavericks' Scotty Huff), and he trades cowboy boots for sunscreen on the hummable "Lone," complete with "Doodily Doo-Doo, Dwee Diddle Doo-Doo" refrain. Even Coomer takes the mike in vintage Dave Clark mode for the two-minute rocker "Eight," offering further evidence that the next Wilco record ought to be more than a one-man show. Quick, somebody get Tweedy a copy!--Scott Holter

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