Recordings

Lou Reed plays Sun, March 17, at the Warfield in S.F.; call 775-7722.
-- Mark Jenkins

Meices
Dirty Bird
(London)

Poor Joe Reineke: If Dirty Bird, the third album by San Francisco's Meices, is any indication, the singer/songwriter/guitarist goes through relationships faster than he goes through guitar strings (which, I'd infer, is quite often). Replete with bittersweet remembrances of katzenjammer couplings, Dirty Bird sounds like a musical version of Jack Nicholson's delightfully bilious "Ballbusters on Parade" soliloquy from the film Carnal Knowledge. Imagine the personal ad: "Noise pop troubadour seeks dragon lady for initial enchantment, inevitable breakup, and eventual immortalization in song."

Oh, well -- if his muses are unworthy, at least they're effective. Like any wandering minstrel worth his BMI membership, Reineke is adept at parlaying emotional anguish into compositional booty, always heeding the maxim that, if you can still sing in key, you can't be all that broken up. Those familiar with previous installments of the Meices saga will immediately recognize the MO at play here: propulsive rhythms, bombastic dynamics, punchy power chords slathered with a thick coating of distortion, and wavering, adenoidal vocals that convey a curious admixture of hope, despair, and indifference.

Time and repetition haven't dulled the approach, though. A tighter sonic assault is apparent from the opener, "Wow," a garage rock maelstrom that borrows liberally from both "Sixteen Tons" and "Stepping Stone" but nonetheless retains its own unique charm. Similarly galvanized is "Yeah," its cacophonous bridge offering the plea, "Don't take the guns, when killing's all we've got" (which, though it has little to do with the song's overall narrative, is still a nice sentiment).

Aiding and abetting to no small degree is producer Gil Norton (who manned the board on the Pixies' Doolittle). Though Norton occasionally leads the band astray (i.e., the syrupy string arrangement on "Monday Mood"), more often than not he expands its palette with pleasing results (i.e., the punchy brass punctuation of "Wow"). Dirty Bird's most defining moment, though, comes on "Uncool," when Reineke declares, "Yeah, we got a way with words, but hey, look now, I'm flipping the bird." Point well taken -- sometimes there's no substitute for a bad attitude. Except, perhaps, a good relationship counselor.

-- Tim Kenneally

Rollerskate Skinny
Horsedrawn Wishes
(Warner Bros.)

There's a school of rock that uses sample, delay, and loop as emotional prosthesis. Rollerskate Skinny taps this vein in its warmest, softest spot, yet the band's vulnerability has an uncanny double-consciousness. Horsedrawn Wishes reverberates with doppelgängers: "real" and machine drums, "live" and sampled guitars, layers of voices earthly and unearthly. Such doubling melodramatizes wars of the body and spirit against Catholic blocks, the double-dare urge to control sensuality by submitting to it ("Kill me every way you can/ My body is safe in my hands"); Rollerskate Skinny promises a mind-and-body-meld fuck, and delivers it only in the act of promising. The effect is unsettling, but a leap of faith lands you in deep, thrilling pleasure -- pleasure made heady, sometimes queasy, by its cerebral self-dissection.

To call the monolithic DIY orchestration "overproduced" is to shoot past the mark: Its genius lies in a bubble-gum metaphysics that anticipates and subverts its own excesses -- with, remarkably, poignancy and not the irony of, say, Pulp or Blur. Yet these post-colonial Dubliners do have Britpop cousins: They share with the technodelic Chemical Brothers a spacey synthesis of lavish texture and swooping melody, and with idiot-savant revisionists Oasis phrases (both lyrical and musical) of gloriously inane profundity, like ad jingles that accidentally move you to tears. Their closest relative is My Bloody Valentine, but Rollerskate Skinny scrawls its own name on MBV's wall of sound.

Or rather, the group commits the perfect pop crime: multiple acts of brilliant, untraceable forgery. Everything they do has been done before, but has it been done all at once? A monstrous plunderphonics of wacked-out anachronisms reanimating everyone from Barrett to Bolan, Horsedrawn Wishes finally blows its own ectoplasm overdosing on whatever the Beach Boys were on. Ken Griffin's voice eerily echoes Brian Wilson's as it carefully navigates a morass of sound, surfing the edge of hysteria. Live, Griffin stands dead still, as expressionless as the little plastic man his band uses as a logo, then his eyes widen with amazement at the forces he, or something, has unleashed. A thunderous marching beat pounds, waves of distorted guitar and slightly off-key strings crash and break, and a deranged banshee wails as Griffin muses sweetly, disingenuously, "Nobody ever told me that this sort of thing could come alive." Indeed.

-- Sally Jacob

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