Recordings

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."

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