THE BEVIS FROND
What Did for the Dinosaurs
U.K. psych-pop stalwarts tweak the formula with fine results.
Rumors of the Frond's retirement were greatly exaggerated. As it turns out, group main man Nick Saloman was merely mulling over some new sonic approaches, including going all-digital and bringing in a co-producer, something the notoriously self-reliant/confident Saloman has rarely done. He's not being ironic with the album title; Saloman seems genuinely concerned, some 15 years and 16 albums into the game, about where he fits in. Sample lyric from the title cut: "I never thought I'd come across like my Dad/I suddenly looked into the mirror and found that I'd turned into him." Yet for all the changes going down with the U.K. trio, from the digital clarity (sonic murk often being a trademark) to the reined-in performances (13-minute compositions are no stranger to Saloman's back catalog, but most of these clock in under four) to the impressive diversity (for a quote/ unquote power trio, the Frond seems at home, stylistically, in practically any decade) . . . Dinosaurs remains reassuringly familiar in tone and texture. You get lilting, '50s-ish keyboard pop, Nuggets-styled freakbeat, Byrdsian jangle pop, sensitive acoustic folk that'll charm your inner Nick Drake, searing post-Hendrix grunge heroics, and, oh yeah, a 13-minute psychedelic-prog epic too, all spiced by virtuoso musicianship and Saloman's characteristic cynical wit in the lyrics department. Meet the new Frond, same as the old Frond—that's a good thing, by the way. FRED MILLS
MIKE IRELAND & HOLLER
Ex-Sub Pop twang tunesmith back for more.
In the mid-'90s, Mike Ireland went from fronting a band named for a mass murderer (the Starkweathers, as in Nebraskan Charles Starkweather) to spilling his lonesome, bitter guts to the world on a '98 solo debut, Learning How to Live (Sub Pop). That record—pulled together from the ruins of a broken marriage—was country music the way forefathers Hank Williams and George Jones intended: candid and caustic, immersed and intimate. The vintage tones continue on the Kansas City native's follow-up, another near-perfect mix of classic musicianship and lyrical grandeur. With a thoughtful pen and an effortless tenor—think Dwight Yoakam's yodel meets Charlie Rich's soul—Ireland propels his backing band (led by pedal steel master Buddy Cage) through honky tonk ("Tonight"), pop ("The Other Way"), R&B ("Mr. Rain"), even swing ("Sweet Sweetheart"). Oh, there's still plenty of peppered references to soured romance: the plaintive "Love's the Hardest Thing You'll Ever Do," the foreboding "Close Enough to Break Each Other's Hearts," and the Stax-speckled Rich cover, "Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs." Yet, overall, it's more confident and optimistic. Another strong effort by a Midwestern artist, released on a Boston label—and as true to old-school Nashville as it gets. SCOTT HOLTER
Whatever happened to quitting while you're ahead?
In an act of holding on for dear life equivalent to those goddamn hair plugs, Pere Ubu has released its 12th studio album in nearly a quarter-century. St. Arkansas starts off sounding an awful lot like Frank Black's last solo record. "The Fevered Dream of Hernando DeSoto" careens like one of the ex- Pixies' Latin-flavored exports while managing to hold onto the tiniest hint of Pere Ubu's back catalog, mostly in the form of trademark vocals and chaotic, charging rhythms. Unfortunately, on the second track, lead singer David Thomas trades his weird, racing cry for a nasally, old-man croon and the resulting lisp/whine/spoken-word chant. That, along with some weak lyrics ("I wear a suit/And honey I wear a tie/Yeah, yeah, yeah"), is so far from the band's arty punk origins that the first few seconds alone are enough to break your heart. Elsewhere, there are moments of reminiscent near truth, and although some listeners may really want to appreciate the band's life span (even though only two original members remain), there's inevitably some crappy instrumentation and corny lines to throw you off. Most of the record sounds like some kind of funk/fusion/industrial junk you'd stumble across—and then run from—at a street fair in Fremont. Perhaps most disconcerting is the oppressive road theme. It ain't like these guys just got off their first tour, and hearing a bunch of songs with "home is on the road" sentiments feels like, well, a head full of hair plugs. LAURA CASSIDY