The Halo Benders: The Rebels Not In

The Halo Benders
The Rebels Not In
K Records

THE HALO BENDERS' 1994 classic "Don't Touch My Bikini" is my all-time favorite summertime slap-in-the-face, and it remains a kid-pop classic. But three years after it hit college radio, our two heroes, Calvin Johnson (of Beat Happening fame) and Doug Martsch (of Built To Spill fame), find themselves facing an entirely different--and much smaller--indie planet. Back in the day, Beat Happening was the darling of a legion of alt-mavens, while few clung to Built To Spill's epic-length rockers. Today, BTS is the critics' choice, and Johnson's Olympia, Washington-based K Records rarely piques national curiosity.

With this sort of continental shift, you would almost expect the Halo Benders' brand new The Rebels Not In to feel like a disjointed, indulgent battle of egos. For surely, with 1997 turning out to be such a sorry year for collegiate-radio-ready music, Johnson and Martsch could practically shit out records for their minions--as evidenced in Johnson's overwrought indulgences with his other part-time band, Dub Narcotic, and The Rebels Not In's clumsy opener, "Virginia Reel Around the Fountain." My instincts told me not to trust them this time out. And my instincts for this kind of thing couldn't be wrong, right?

Wrong. A song later, the easy, breezy beats of "Your Asterisk" made Johnson's John Wayne-style vocals seem oddly fresh, even pleasantly poppy, as a delayed slide guitar and Martsch's subtle "yeah yeah"s filled in the song's holes. And only Martsch's trademark melancholic prettiness could soften up Johnson's rough singing style on the titular refrain to the wonderful "Lonesome Sundown." Throughout Rebels, there isn't any suggestion of ego bloat from either of our stars. The lead-vocal handoffs are sweet and smooth. Martsch sings the new-wave blast "Bury Me," and turns the song's tagline "it's a holiday" into the perfect antidote to midwinter depression.

Yet, despite these high points, Rebels' luck runs out. Most of the record's songs just don't stick. "Surfer's Haze" pushes mood swings and offers little or no room for respite. The rest of the songs aren't annoying, they're anonymous. The tunes simply shuffle into obscurity. Not a bad metaphor for the future of indie rock, but you can't shake your ass to a metaphor.

 
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