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Wednesday, Jul 5 1995
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Red Aunts
#1 Chicken
(Epitaph)

Three hundred words on #1 Chicken? Subtitled "14 Songs, 23 Minutes," there ain't even 300 words on Red Aunts' first Epitaph release, but no matter. Named for a hometown Long Beach restaurant, Chicken is a greasy screechfest -- part catty, part country, part Courtney. Think Silverfish on speed, the Supersuckerettes, or a sexy X: "Detroit Valentine" rhymes "head" with "dead" and "gun" with "run"; "Peppermint Patty" (evidently dedicated to Patty Hearst) surfs along blissfully; reeling off pot synonyms seems the sole purpose of "Mota."

It's not until "Willabell," a four-chord, one-minute cyclone in which EZ Wider screams, "Hop in the back seat, baby/ And hold on tight/ I'm gonna floor it sweet thing/ And fly you like a kite," that a glimmer of the Aunts' best attribute -- stand-out performances, say, the one that won S.F.'s heart like a cheap carnival toy last year -- shines through. See, Angel, EZ, Cougar, and Sapphire know that if you're an honest punk band, it doesn't matter how fat your wallet is, whose label graces your record, or whether you sit down or stand up to pee. What does matter is that you toss an extra verse into "Teach Me to Kill" so Angel can peel off her Telecaster and leap into the pit, slam with men twice her weight, and climb back onstage to light the cigarette still perched behind her ear. That shit makes me wet!

In an era when punk is traded like a commodity and female artists like P J Harvey vamp for MTV's Vaseline-smeared cameras, Red Aunts march in, raid your fridge, vaporize your damage deposit, and leave you for dead in a heap on the floor, eardrums hissing and a smile on your face. How'm I doin' wordwise? 298? Not bad.

-- Colin Berry
Red Aunts play with Skip Loader and Teen Angels Sat, July 8, at the Bottom of the Hill in S.F.; call 626-4455.

The Grifters
The Eureka E.P.
(Shangri-La)

So Happy Together, the Grifters' 1992 debut, was easily as frustrating as it was fulfilling. Even as the Memphis quartet's cathartic pop din promised to blow an invigorating gust of fresh air across the indie landscape, their obstinately lo-fi production values (the album was recorded in the flower shop where drummer Stan Gallimore and singer/guitarist Dave Shouse worked at the time) mired the material in a rancorous muck that often bordered on unlistenable. Moreover, the band seemed to revel in a willful ineptitude and laissez-faire songsmithery that rendered the whole venture a crapshoot. Too often the music was like spotting a shiny nickel through a sewer grate: enticing, but you had to wade through an awful lot of shit to get to it.

Three years and as many albums later, the Grifters have ditched the gambling and forsaken the flower shop without losing any of the awkward adolescent charm that made the aforementioned transgressions tolerable. Eureka is every bit the breakthrough that its title suggests. Slackeresque ennui still drips from the lips of Shouse and co-vocalist/guitarist Scott Taylor, but its instrumental manifestation is more finessed. "Eureka I.V.," with its willowy organ and pedal steel, recalls American Music Club's muted, downbeat ruminations, while "Founder's Day Parade" shimmers delicately with a carefully balanced filigree of chiming guitars. Precision is the order of the day, and it informs even the blasts of static that still occasionally blow: The galloping, enigmatic "Whatever Happened to Felix Cole" is an infectious chunk of pseudo-anthemic bombast, but it's all the more effective for the subtext of restraint the band now applies.

"I would give you anything to be holy/ I would give you anything to be smooth," growls the chorus to the pendulous, pensive "Slow Day for the Cleaner." Eureka finds the Grifters halfway there on both counts, in a refined state of grace with a patina of polish.

-- Tim Kenneally

Herbie Hancock
Dis Is da Drum
(Mercury)

With the 1983 release of "Rockit," Herbie Hancock, a pioneer of jazz fusion, dared to do what no "purist" would even consider: merge jazz riffs with hip-hop breakbeats. His creative interplay between synthesizer and turntable on that seminal track is still respected more than a decade later. On Dis Is da Drum, a new release two years in the making, Hancock appeals once again to the primal urge for beats and rhythm. West African percussions, prominent throughout, are allowed to stand on their own, giving pieces like "JuJu" a heavy tribal feel.

Although Hancock has been revered for his jazz genius for more than 30 years, he proclaims that Drum is not a jazz album but a "dance album with jazz elements." To some degree, that's true; many of the songs inspire movement of the rug-cutting nature, but it seems impossible for Hancock to repress his immanent jazz tendencies. One listen to "Call It 95" says it all, in the flirtatious repartee between Hancock's piano and Frank Thibeaux's bass line, in the sense of Miles Davis' soul working its way through Wallace Rooney's trumpet. It's doubtful that club DJs will drop this track between "This Is How We Do It" and "Tootsee Roll."

Longtime fans will appreciate the revision of the '70s classic "Butterfly," which starts off just as rich and ominous as the original, flowing like liquid gold until Hancock kicks some hip-hop flava toward the middle of the song. The transition to urban feel is smooth, before finishing full circle with Herbert Law's airy flute fluttering in the background. The hip-hop influence is strongest on "The Melody," which features a DJ and a rapper. With the exception of Quincy Jones, no other artist has successfully married hip hop and jazz; Hancock did it first, and continues to do it best.

-- Gwendlynn Meno

Low
Long Division
(Vernon Yard/Virgin)

It's probably safe to venture a few guesses about the collective nature of this Duluth trio. For one thing, founding members Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker and new bassist Zak Sally are likely baseball fans, and they don't mind interminable time lapses between pitches. They're at ease sitting around silently in each other's company, maybe doing crossword puzzles. Someone owns a hammock. One or more suffer from migraines.

If the pleasure of a lot of rock is its adrenalized confrontations with our thresholds of pain, Low's superdeliberate tempos are an inversion of that principle -- they're excruciating in their very motionlessness. Though the band has been likened to Galaxie 500 (fellow clients of slapdash producer Kramer), Low's crawling approach makes Dean Wareham's feathery first group sound like a hard-charging Brahma bull. Long Division has roots in Dos, Mike Watt's collaboration with Kira, in the Twin Peaks scores, and in Manhattan art-plodders Codeine. But Low's music is less plaintive than Dos, less cabaret than Julee Cruise, and less psychotic than Codeine (though they do offer creepy lines like, "She's a sinker/ I should have taught her how to swim").

In fact, Low are less everything than just about everybody: This is archminimalism. The band credits its home base near the Great Lakes with inspiring the music's cold, gray backdrop. In Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, an immigrant girl takes two New Yorkers to visit the shores of Lake Erie. Though a thick snow cloud has obliterated the view, one of the guys murmurs numbly, "It's beautiful."

-- James Sullivan
Low plays Sun, July 9, at the Bottom of the Hill in S.F.; call 621-4455.

Various Artists
The Soul of Black Peru
(Luaka Bop)

Behind the joyful sounds of Afro-Peruvian music is a long trail of tears. West African slaves were brought to Peru, as they were to other South American countries, but in Peru the Spanish implemented divide-and-conquer tactics, avoiding the importation of large numbers from any one ethnic group in fear that a common language could foster resistance to bondage as it did in Cuba. Instead, the slave population was made up of smaller groups from diverse backgrounds. The ancestors of these people were slowly integrated into their new country, but memories of Africa dominate their music-making to this day. Black Peruvians combined Spanish, African, and indigenous elements and invented unique percussion instruments, including the cajon, a wooden box held between the legs, and the quijada de burro, a burro's jawbone with loosened teeth that sounds like a tenor guiro.

A well-kept "secret" for centuries, Afro-Peruvian music has finally made it to the clubs of Lima, and now The Soul of Black Peru, a compilation culled by David Byrne and Yale Evelev, should awaken interest in the Northern Hemisphere. "Maria Lando," the kickoff track, has the potential to become an international classic. Its minor-key melody, driven by a tinkling flamenco-ish guitar line, gentle percussion, and the plaintive singing of Susana Baca, generates a beautifully melancholy mood that's both as alien and familiar as a suddenly remembered dream.

Afro-Peruvian rhythms resemble the Andean music most Anglos are familiar with, but the African elements predominate to give things a unique twist. Besides "Maria Lando," which is reprised by Byrne near the close of the disc, the album overflows with impressive music-making. "Yo No Soy Jaqui," an energetic lando with a message of racial pride by Manuel Donayre, sounds like a cha-cha; Cecilia Barraza mixes familiar Peruvian mountain rhythms into "Canterurias" and comes up with something like an African waltz; Peru Negro, the group credited with revitalizing Afro-Peruvian music in the '50s, brings a fierce rhythmic drive to "Son de Los Diablos" and "Lando." Both haunting and danceable, this is the music of an indomitable spirit.

-- j. poet

About The Author

James Sullivan

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Tim Kenneally

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J. Poet

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Colin Berry

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Gwendlynn Meno

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