Who's Got the Chops to Make Me Shiver?

Trolling for hooks in the office clutter

I like to think that I'm on top of things, but sometimes when the scene starts popping out albums like mogwai from a wet Gizmo, it's easy to get behind. Here are some local albums whose recent releases slipped beneath my hissy, short-circuiting radar. It was also a good excuse to finally go through the piles of CDs on my desk that had begun towering over me. I've been telling my coworkers that I'm building a fort.

Belles of Skin City
You Do the Company Proud
I love how every track on this album feels like a *tug-of-war among its members. On "The Basquiat of Iowa," my attention is jerked back and forth by the explosive snare, a rolling bass groove, and David Joe Holiday's vocal hiccups: "You belly up for the be-bop-a-loo right now!" I don't know what it means but it makes me want to join in on his side of the mud pit. Other tracks have me crossing enemy lines for a rumbling guitar line or some ribcage-rattling percussion. Plus, this quintet comes up with the best song titles in town, like "Joni Loves Trotsky." (Chachi was just a rebound after that whole assassination by ice pick incident.)

The Get Up Johns
Trouble in Mind
Mercy Recordings
As old-timey etiquette would dictate, Trouble in Mind's production is simple and clean, an intimate recreation of the duo's live performances without the celebratory whoopin' of a rowdy bar crowd. Jake Hyer and Josh Wenck do other people's songs justice. Jaunty opener "Cluck Ol' Hen" is an infectious fiddle and guitar ditty, while their eerily calm delivery of damnation in "Sinner, You Better Get Ready" is the best 79-second endorsement Christianity could ever hope for. But the album's sole original track is my favorite. Quiet and reflective, "Guns to Carry" is a plaintive plea for marriage that tugs hardest in the perfect harmonies of its chorus.

Kubla Khan
Lowertown
As a pop band with horns, Kubla Khan spend the better part of their press release trying to convince people that they're neither ska nor jam. The group does share ska's love of goofy subject matter (trying to remember a girl's name as you beg her to stay, the anxiety over inviting someone to couple-skate at a 1980s roller rink) but they're not even a leaf on the Grateful Dead's family tree. If we're talking about bands with brass, the musical influence I'm getting is Chicago. Lower Town is all punchy pop hooks with just a touch of '70s AM gold to soften the edge. I bet these guys could do a mean "Saturday in the Park."

One for the Team
Good Boys Don't Make Noise
Afternoon Records
I have this weird pet peeve about songs that make reference to how or why they were written, but the opening lines of this debut are so awkwardly candid, I couldn't help but smile: "I've been meaning to write these songs for some time/I hope that they don't waste yours/They've been in me for so long begging to be written down/Please, Ian, don't ignore me." The Ian in question is Ian Anderson (see more on the new release from his other band, Aneuretical, on p. 46), who goes on to ask for some sort of emo dork amnesty. It's a strangely charming sentiment that fits their sound. One for the Team charge through their album as if they'd been raised on a box of '90s indie-rock mixtapes—balancing admitted sensitivity and insecurity with an almost-abrasive guitar crunch.

Various artists
Twin Town High Vol. 8
I wish I could say that Pulse music editor Steve McPherson and I are engaged in a bitter rivalry that involves plenty of trash-talking (Hey McQueerson, I heard you like the new Scott Stapp record! Ooh, snap!) and poorly executed dance-offs in the Clown Lounge. Sadly, this is not true. Steve is a stand-up guy and he knows how to put together a damn good compilation. The disc has plenty of tracks worth mentioning, but some highlights include Painted Saints' accordion-and-violin lilt, "Lights Hanging Low from Heavy Cottonwoods" and Friends Like These's semi-apologetic lullaby, "Excuses." And the denouement to Middlepicker's "Top Down" ("Who's got the chops to make me shiver?") is my pugnacious new rock-crit battle cry. Watch out!

Word for Word
Twin Cities or Bust
I can only imagine the reaction of the non-Twin Citizen hip-hop fan upon hearing Craig Finn bumrush a track. (I assume it's some variation of What the hell is this?) But we love it when our local boys hop the genre fence and play nice. Word for Word have more going for them than their cameos: Twin Cities or Bust is great fuel for sluggish summer BBQs. Standout tracks include "Chain Gang Head Bang," which rolls over a '40s-sounding film score of mischievous strings and xylophone, and "Excalibur," which bounces on a Princely synth line and reminisces about the decade that broke hip hop: "Purple Rain/Fifteen minutes of fame/I miss River Phoenix/Shoulda taken Corey Haim."

TIVO THIS! OR, UH, TAPE IT

Tapes 'n Tapes make their television debut July 25 on The Late Show with David Letterman. As of press time, the band was still figuring out which song would best fit their allotted three-and-a-half minutes. While The Loon's first single, "Insistor," is too long for the occasion, you can catch the video on MTV2 or YouTube.com. Plus, the band has already shot a follow-up for "Cowbell." Of course, T'nT first started dabbling in short-form cinema years ago with a DIY clip for "My Name Is Not Horatio." (The video for "Insistor" is slightly bigger-budget than its predecessor, which, if I recall correctly, was shot in a Make Your Own Video booth at the mall.)

 
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