Recordings

Alice Donut
Pure Acid Park
(Alternative Tentacles)

Vocalist Tomas Antona and his Alice Donut cohorts have never made particularly effective poster children for Mental Stability in the Modern Age. Long before Michael Douglas brought the downsized, demoralized, and bazooka-toting D-FENS to the silver screen in Falling Down, Antona was plumbing the murky psychological depths of the world's Bernie Goetzes, sitting atop the fence between sanity and madness and chronicling the Dance of the Disenfranchised that took place below; not for nothing did AD charmingly dub an album Revenge Fantasies of the Impotent. Even more disturbing was Antona's bemused take on the scene: On "New Jersey Exit" from AD's debut, Donut Comes Alive, he details the real-life tale of four Garden State teens who took the Final Exit via carbon monoxide poisoning in Dad's sedan. "Your kids are having a gas in the garage," he mocks. Lovely stuff, that.

On Pure Acid Park (a Jurassic pun), Antona finally topples off the perch after seven years of anthropological observation -- and guess which side he lands on. It seems he's dragged his bandmates over the edge with him. True to its title, Pure Acid Park is an effort of Sandozian proportions, a kaleidoscope collection of fractured soundscapes that march to the beat of misfiring synapses. I suppose it should have been taken as an omen when AD started covering Pink Floyd's "Brain Damage" in their live set, but Park is more redolent of Barrett-era Floyd than the navel-gazing Roger Waters model; disillusioned post-punks that AD are, they actually prefer a strychnine chaser with their shots of "orange sunshine."

After "Millennium" unfolds with something akin to Gregorian chant, Antona ponders the apocalyptic nature of the year 2-triple-0, deciding that "it don't mean a thing," a stance that requires either cojones the size of coconuts or a brain the size of a pea. Similarly skewered, "Big Cars & Blow Jobs" begins with the most homogeneous of cock-rock guitar riffs -- a common Donut tactic -- before dissolving into fanfare that's part New Orleans funeral, part Deliverance, a flurry of banjos, trombones, and kazoos. Likewise, "Mummenschantz Pachinko" might have been intercepted from Radio Lithuania, while "The Unspeakable Pleasure of Being Me," a direct-to-the-board instrumental that clocks in at 1:40, is so unremittingly blissful that insanity is its only logical wellspring. Bizarre, yes; how else to describe an album on which a cover of legendary acid-casualty Roky Erickson's "I Walked Into a Zombie" is the most pedestrian offering? Beats the hell out of watching a bunch of computer-generated dinosaurs prance around the screen, anyway.

-- Tim Kenneally
Alice Donut plays Tues, Sept. 12, at the Great American Music Hall in S.F.; call 885-0750.

Joy Division
Permanent: Joy Division 1995
(Warner Bros.)

Various Artists
A Means to an End: The Music of Joy Division
(Virgin)

During a recent Lollapalooza performance, Hole blundered through a short rendition of Joy Division's "She's Lost Control," a move riddled with irony. The frying-pan-over-the-head aspect of Courtney Love yowling the titular lyrics aside, consider the parallels between her late husband, Kurt Cobain, and JD vocalist Ian Curtis: Both were angst-ridden individuals who transmuted their personal anguish into powerful songwriting. Both committed suicide at the height of their careers, just prior to impending U.S. tours. Both left a wife and a daughter behind, both had six-letter surnames that began with C, and [insert favorite conspiracy theory here].

But the big difference between these two seminal musicians is that when British Curtis shucked his mortal coil in 1980, it barely blipped on the U.S. radar screen; the first news I heard about his death came via the last paragraph of a one-page Creem profile that ran shortly thereafter (talk about burying the lead). But the snowball of notoriety began rolling, and 15 years later, Joy Division is considered one of the most important early post-punk bands. Named after the euphemistic slang for Nazi prostitution wards, JD's starkly minimalist minor-key excursions have greatly impacted the realms of indie, industrial, techno, and beyond. Oh yeah, and JD spawned some new-wave act called New Order.

So now, for those who missed the Joy Division party train the first time around, we have Permanent: Featuring two versions of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (JD's only real "hit"), the anthology is culled equally from JD's three studio albums -- Unknown Pleasures, Closer, and Disc 1 of Still -- and rounded out with a smattering of singles. Although the term "best of" seems especially subjective in regards to JD, this sturdy little collection serves as an admirable intro -- or flashback, for those of us who overdosed on this stuff in the '80s.

And now there's A Means to an End, the inevitable tribute LP (the second, actually; one with Italian bands was released in 1989). Conceptually, it's a solid idea: Assign a diverse bunch of indie artists to cover JD songs, simultaneously showcasing both their disparate styles and Curtis and company's breadth of influence. To a degree, it works. The only cringe-inducer is Stanton-Miranda's sugar-pop "Love Will Tear Us Apart," caught somewhere between previous versions by Paul Young (1983) and the Swans (1988). Somnambulists Low and Codeine sound exactly as you'd expect, Kendra Smith provides a mesmerizing "Heart and Soul," and indie stalwarts like Further and Versus turn in serviceable, albeit unsurprising, takes.

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