Bed of Roses
Solo follow-up by Seattle's alt-country queen.
Whether you know her from her days as the golden-voiced, bandana-swinging leader of Seattle's beloved Picketts, or as infamous backing vocalist "Crispy McWilson" from the back covers of your Young Fresh Fellows records, you're aware of the all-encompassing styles and influences of Christy McWilson. Her second solo record gathers all those influences—country, pop, folk, and rock—and spatters them in perfection against your living-room wall. Ex-Blaster and L.A. musician extraordinaire Dave Alvin returns to produce, duet with McWilson on a harrowing cover of Moby Grape's "805," and play a blistering solo on a despondent remake of Jesse Colin Young's "Darkness, Darkness." But the fun lies in McWilson's 10 originals. "Even a redwood can be toppled by a breeze," she sings in the opener," Life's Little Enormities," a Picketts-like rocker that segues into the countrified "Lila Jean" and the Lucinda Williams- like "Serpentine River." But the real jewel here is the finger-snapping rocker "Can't Stop a Train." Over Eric Danheim's ringing guitar McWilson pleads, "Hasn't the world been good to you?/Haven't I been trying to?" McWilson remains passionate and without disguise—and as wonderfully infectious and musically fertile as ever. Scott Holter
(Gold Standard Labs)
Drive-In refugee teasers are idiosyncratic, cinematic.
Shortly after Papa Roach's front-mook publicly bestowed props upon them, At the Drive-In split up. Although the El Paso quintet was in critical and popular nirvana, the dissolution was a blessing, spawning two offshoots with all sorts of potential to shake up both the underground and Total Request Live. Frontman Cedric Bixler and guitarist Omar Rodriguez opted for the esoteric thesaurus-punk route with Mars Volta, whose ass-jiggling gusto nearly leveled Graceland last November. "Concertina" is sonic wet paper, a disjointed drizzle of isolated guitar and piano notes that congeals into a rollicking chorus. Although Tremulant is an ambitious, hungry debut, it's often throttled by dead passages. Sparta have few similarly risky, artful embellishments to slow them down. Fronted by Jim Ward, whose hoarse backup vox were vital to ATDI, they bring the "let's fucking do this" vitality that earned their former band frequent Rage Against the Machine comparisons. The ramshackle pick work of "Vacant Skies" is a righteous flagpole, backing its ass up against confident, accessible rhythm work, yet the queer synthesizer tumult of "Echodyne Harmonic" is not unlike a Volta experiment. Looks like these two challengers can— and should—coexist in the same ring. Andrew Bonazelli
Let Your Shadow Out
(Animal World Recordings)
Yeah yeah yeah! The No-No's got the punk-pop beat!
Like Sarah Dougher and Tamala Poljak, Robin Bowser has a wonderfully abrasive, no-nonsense voice that bulldozes through bullshit like she's got nothing to prove and nothing to lose. Which means that whenever she opens her mouth on the No-No's delightful Let Your Shadow Out, she can't help but cut to the chase: "What's the point of trying to play it so cool?" she asks bluntly. "We know who we really are." And with her strikingly honest lyrics, deceptively sweet melodies, and defiantly off-key vocals, Bowser is clearly the No-No's raison d'괲e—no small feat, either, considering that her band has more Northwest indie-rock cred than you can shake a drumstick at. Formed in Portland circa 1995, the No-No's feature Bowser, Heather Dunn (Dub Narcotic Sound System, ex-Tiger Trap), Mike Clark (Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks), and Ralf Toutz (ex-Built to Spill). As with their previous two rollick 'n' roll LPs, however, the band's bum-rushed rock doesn't sound much like the members' other projects. Instead, their updated '60s girl-group chirps and early '90s-era K Records pop most closely recall the sharp-edged, sing-along songs of Longstocking and the Panties. Jimmy Draper
Transmissions from the Blank Generation.
Louder . . . LOUDER!! . . . You can do better than that . . . show a little bit of respect!" The sound of Johnny Rotten haranguing an audience for nearly three minutes to demand an encore at a 1977 Richard Hell & the Voidoids show in London is significant for capturing the anarchist in a rare moment of rock 'n' roll reverence and for serving quite nicely as Exhibit No. 179 in the case against punk rock mythically sprouting from that city's gutters earlier in the year. The London recordings on Time bespeak Hell's intensity as a performer and showcase his ragged genius, but the sound quality is lousy. So lousy, in fact, that their inclusion here is highly questionable, no matter the historical consequence. Some tracks taken from a CBGB's gig the following year—one featuring guest vocals from Elvis Costello—are better but hardly essential. The real reason to get Time is for the tracks originally compiled on the cassette-only release R.I.P. Hell's brief tenure with the Heartbreakers is well represented as are rarities from various Voidoid incarnations between 1977 and 1984. Throughout, Hell's smarts are unmistakable; but he's also too desperate to be pretentious, making his frequent consignment to the literary wing of the '70s N.Y.C. scene, along with the occasionally overblown Patti Smith and Television, a tad unfair. Even if songs like "Time" or "Betrayal Takes Two" do work just as well on paper, there's no mistaking that the edition of Hell captured here was always first and foremost a rocker at heart. Paul Fontana