PLAYLIST

Red Aunts
#1 Chicken
(Epitaph)

Brutal Juice
Mutilation Makes Identification Difficult
(Interscope)

The first thing you notice about the artwork for these discs is the blood: Red Aunts Angel, E.Z. Wider, Cougar and Sapphire are covered with it in the various mock-crime-scene shots that accompany #1 Chicken, while the Brutal Juicers decorate Mutilation with lovely photos of a splattered toilet jammed with what appears to be a used tampon--an appropriate image, since the CD includes a cut dubbed "The Vaginals." But it's more than a fondness for precious bodily fluids that differentiates these bands from the avalanche of generic punk poseurs being foisted upon society at large with such regularity lately. The Aunts, in particular, have chips on their shoulders, but they know enough to present themselves self-deprecatingly; why else would the phrase "Fuck bar codes, man" appear right next to (you guessed it) their disc's bar code? A sense of cheeky, thrashy energy infuses Chicken's terrific lead track, "Freakathon," and the majority of the other thirteen spiky, noisy punk fragments that the quartet tears through in less than 23 minutes. Heard from top to bottom, the platter is a thrillingly superficial rush. Brutal Juice is a craggier matter: It'll be up to the individual listener to decide whether the misogyny present in cuts such as "Kentucky Fuck Daddy" and "Lashings of the Ultra-Violent" is meant seriously or satirically. Me, I think that any act that names a tribute to brainless carnality "Kathy Rigby" has got to have a sense of humor. But there are no conundrums musically. Vocalist Craig Welch and his brethren manage to stir together dollops from Helmet, Black Sabbath and various psychedelic sources into a propulsive, pleasantly deafening roar that should kick the hell out of your reservations. There's nothing remotely P.C. about either of these acts, and while that's not the only reason they're interesting, it's as good a place as any to start.--Michael Roberts

Vic Chesnutt
Is the Actor Happy?
(Texas Hotel)

The measly cost of this record will entitle you to a trip down to Dixie alongside an articulate little craftsman Michael Stipe recently identified as "the best thing since the Butthole Surfers." Yes, Chesnutt sings from a wheelchair. Yep, he's the dude who manned the atheism table while attending the University of Georgia. Right, he was the subject of documentarian Peter Sillen's award-winning film Speed Racer. And, most important, his rural "Grannyspeak" belies an erudite understanding of language and literacy. Even when he's armed with nothing more than his guitar and his lyric book, Chestnutt is among the most brilliant young voices in contemporary art, let alone music. Better yet, his fourth effort won't necessarily leave you feeling depressed as hell. Several tracks, including the bona fide single "Onion Soup," are groovier and poppier than usual. But it's the finale, "Guilty by Association," that takes the bakery. Stipe checks in to help Vic through a typically lucid chorus: "All the little loonies/With a salient obsession/Come out from the boonies/With their sharpies and their guns...loaded with questions."--Jason Horwitch

Kendra Smith
Five Ways of Disappearing
(4AD)

Smith has made a career of being overshadowed. While a member of Dream Syndicate during the band's most interesting period (documented to best effect on the 1982 disc The Days of Wine and Roses), she took a backseat to Steve Wynn, a singer-songwriter whose work following her departure from the group became increasingly boozy and conventional. Later, her excellent contributions to the Rainy Day compilation disc were bypassed by those captivated by the pre-fame Susannah Hoffs, while the discs Smith made with the combo Opal were largely credited to guitar innovator David Roback, who's gone on to something approaching celebrity with Mazzy Star. Five Ways of Disappearing, then, is the first opportunity to hear Smith almost entirely on her own; she wrote or co-wrote all but one selection here, and she co-produced the disc with A. Phillip Uberman. Her voice on the disc is marked by a soft, spectral quality, but she exhibits slightly more edge than does Hope Sandoval, whose work in Mazzy Star obviously has been influenced by Roback's former partner. The style is a perfect fit for Smith on exotica such as "Aurelia" and "Bohemian Zebulon," as well as on "In Your Head," a more immediately catchy and pop-oriented track than she usually produces. Seen on the printed page, Smith's words can seem random, scattershot: In "Maggots," for instance, the lyrics ("Sudden impulse of the mind/A whimsy and a freak/Drone katydid in deep wood") come across like observations of the flighty, tangential stripe. Still, Smith makes them work by putting them at the service of gently shifting soundscapes that, in their unhurried fashion, take listeners to a warm, strange, enigmatic place far, far away. The journey is not without its bumps, but with Smith as your guide, getting there is half the fun.--Roberts

 
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