It's the sign of a healthy scene when three distinct, dependable indie rock bands release their third, fifth and eighth CDs in the same month, even if the new stuff only subtly strengthens each band's catalogue. We're talking about the latest from local stalwarts Arcwelder, Milk, and Cows.
Forever resistant to the buzz-band status they deserve, it seemed Arcwelder might rest forever on the laurels of their local following and trademark formula: the Graber brothers' wall of guitar noise, that Chicago-industrial styled churning rhythm, that heart-on-sleeve sincerity. But for their fifth collection, Entropy (Touch and Go), Arcwelder looks slightly inward and comes up with what's close to an easy-listening record--relatively speaking, of course. By retaining their template and toning down the fury somewhat, they've made a charged single out of "Captain Allen," while "Ad Infinitum" even works in piano and bass clarinet parts. Drummer Scott Macdonald, in particular, is growing more emotionally naked as a writer, hitting a vulnerable falsetto for "Free Me" and "I Promise Not to Be an Asshole." Fear not, however: When Entropy translates to the stage, it should do the usual wonders for the mosh pit. Their new duality preserves the spirit of the Welders' early spastic hardcore, but with a craft and subtlety not heard before.
Four years ago, Milk lurched forth on the strength of its disorienting polyrhythms and charming frontfreak, Brett Gross. They've since grown thicker and, well, milkier, and everything about their palendromic So Many Dynamos (Spanish Fly) marks it as their most important release yet. Gross now uses his guitar not merely for melody but as a loud, orchestral blanket over bassist Jeremy Grosser and drum god Christian Nielson. "Program One," for instance, conjures a dreamy palette laden with feedback and reverb, then goes full-throttle while somehow maintaining its cool. Gross still reports his vaguely personal revelations in an absurd light, though he now seems more friendly than obscure, more self-conscious than maniacal. No songs on Dynamos reach the definitive edge of succeeding/receding's "Lazy Sails"--though the propulsive "Another Elevator" and "You Must Be Saved" come close. Overall, Dynamos is Milk's darkest, warmest and best-produced work. Like Arcwelder, the trio also deserves a breakthrough, but if that's not in the cards, I look forward to the eight-disc retrospective box set (a la Guided by Voices) come 2001. (Milk plays two shows at 7th St. Entry on Friday, April 26 with the Kelley Deal 6000; call 338-8388.)
Cows now have eight discs to their name with the release of Whorn (Amphetamine Reptile), and for all their persistence they're now one of the bigger indie bands around. The slight downside: Their damn-the-torpedos, pro-quantity approach often yields records that are half genius and half dross (which is why the forthcoming Old Gold extraction should be worth its weight). That said, the raging Whorn is Cows' best since '92's Cunning Stunts. Witness the Stonesy sludge and cocksure rants of "Four Things," which finally prove Cows are the damaged half-brothers of Run Westy Run. Selberg's roleplaying has him either embracing psychosexual depravity ("Divorcee Moore") or reverting to the mind of an child ("A Oven"), and his neurosis is so convincing, it's hard to tell where he draws his line between performance and reality. Cows still want you to keep guessing.
Other new local records this month: Semisonic, Great Divide (MCA); The Kelley Deal 6000, Go to the Sugar Altar (Nice); Rank Strangers, Mystery Spot (Veto); National Dynamite, Give it Up For... (Sota Pop); Steel Shank, Let the Bidding War Begin EP. Also take note that King Can hold a CD release party for Maximum Power Super Loud (Earmark) at the Uptown Bar on Saturday. (That same day at 4 p.m., Vinnie & the Stardsters are to lead a protest of the Uptown's music shutdown; the band alleges the bar's decision was made so to cancel a Vinnie show slated for May 4. Anyway...) Coming Tuesday: the Elektra debut of Tina and the B-Side Movement and Paul Westerberg's Eventually (Reprise). And on April 30, Bob Mould's self-titled third solo disc (Ryko). (Simon Peter Groebner)
IF ONLY MORE local bands were as dedicated--and musically diverse--as Machinery Hill. Over their seven-year history, the six-piece unit has quietly evolved into a distinctive group somewhere beyond Brave Combo and Boiled in Lead on the world music map. Drummer Renee Bracchi (The Blue Up?) and banjoist/guitarist Pat Mavity (Mubbla Buggs, Strange Friends) are the newest members, but the core of the group--Bill Lee on saxophones, bass clarinet and harmonica, singer/accordionist Datta, and guitarist Steve Zimmerman--has been perfecting its own blend of Appalachian cabaret music since the early days.
Beyond a general principle to avoid becoming a guitar band, almost anything goes into Machinery Hill's dance-happy mix. In "News of the Weird," a twisted crime tale gets an accordion surf-and-ska underbeat before a reggae breakdown hits mid-way through. Likewise, the half-dozen instrumentals are restless, with everything from seven-beat swing tunes, klezmer rockers and Irish ditties all well executed. And the the group has
a rare talent in leader Datta, a bewitching vocalist who spins some of the scariest tales
Whole Wide World is a real trip, one I'll be going on repeatedly. The band is a longtime favorite of trusty Bill Kubeczko at the Cedar Cultural Centre, who will host Machinery Hill's CD release party this Saturday at 8 p.m ($7 advance, $9 day of show, $5 for students; 416 Cedar Ave., Mpls.; 338-2674). (Jim Meyer)
IF YOU'VE BEEN following the news about how many millions of tons of sludge flow into the Mississippi these days, it sure sounds like a whole lot of talkin' and not a lot of doin'. That's why we still need the Clean Water Action Alliance, for which an Earth Day benefit concert will go down Monday at First Avenue and 7th St. Entry. Apart from that, check out this lineup (gasp!): Almighty protopunks Suicide Commandos, aiming their first new album in 18 years for spring release on TRG, will reprise last summer's stunning reunion show. Also in the mainroom: Tommy Stinson's new band Perfect, Slim Dunlap, Grant Hart, the Magnolias, and some actual non-vets, the Pins. The Entry lineup: Reverend Angus Strychnine, Billy Dankert, Stuart Martz, Dumpster Juice, the Vibro Champs, and the Glenrustles. "Special guests" are rumored, but who's left to top this? 7 p.m. show. $6/$8 at the door. First Avenue, 701 First Ave. N., Mpls.; 338-8388. (Groebner)
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