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Given the deluge of so-called new-music acts lately, it's no wonder many of them sound the same. It seems that too many of these performers are so busy trying to provide an alternative to bland pop music that they're neglecting to provide an alternative to each other. As Scott McLoud, lead guitarist and primary songwriter for the combo Girls Against Boys, says, "There are thousands of bands out there, and I can't even tell the difference between any of them. To me, they sound like weird Seventies hard rock."
Why this tag seems so utterly wrong for Girls Against Boys (also known as GVSB) is a matter of some mystery. The group uses standard rock instruments--guitars, drums, basses (two of the latter)--to play songs built of standard rock elements--verses, choruses, bridges--yet somehow manages not to resemble a clone of a clone of a clone. Ask McLoud the reasons for this, however, and you won't get very far. "I don't think we do anything totally different," he notes. "We try, but it's hard. Maybe it's because I don't have a stereo, so I don't listen to the radio very much."
If he did, he'd be unlikely to hear anything that resembles the eleven tracks on Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby, the group's first-rate debut album for Chicago's Touch and Go label. Rather than going in for the stereotypes of the alternative genre (bludgeoning riffs, hyped-up angst), GVSB varies tempos and textures with an ease that escapes most of its competitors. While McLoud's guitar, Alexis Fleisig's drums and the basses of Johnny Temple and Mr. Silas Greene (supplemented by subtle samples manipulated by Greene) make a noise righteous enough to satisfy those listeners eager to lose most of their hearing by age thirty, the compositions themselves are surprisingly complex. Meanwhile, McLoud's lyrics knit together linguistic fragments that make little narrative sense yet almost always evoke a satisfying image. On "Bug House," for instance, McLoud sings, "Somebody tripped the zero G switch.../ Thank God for the carpet on the ceiling"--lines that, say, They Might Be Giants would likely covet. However, because GVSB eschews a novelty approach in favor of something odder and more provocative, the words emit a strangely ominous aura.
For McLoud, that's exactly the point. "I'm really into catch phrases--stuff from common expressions that I can spice up by mixing up the words or using them in a different context," he says. "I don't like to spell things out, but I'm not into having a garble of words that make no sense, either. I like delivering a line in a way that totally warps and changes the idea."
McLoud's fascination with multiple layers of meaning was honed at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where he was a film student during the mid-Eighties: "I wanted to start a band while I was out there," he admits, "but I didn't have the equipment." He subsequently moved to Washington, D.C., and fell in with the most creative players in a very creative scene. Included among them were the members of Fugazi, to whom GVSB is often compared in spite of the fact that their lyrical approaches are diametrically opposed (Fugazi is political, GVSB is apolitical) and their music has little in common. Still, these musicians were drawn together thanks to Soul Side, a D.C. band featuring McLoud, Fleisig and Temple that released a pair of discs on Fugazi's label, Dischord.
Upon Soul Side's demise, GVSB emerged as a studio project featuring Greene, McLoud and Fugazi's Brendan Canty. This trio issued an EP, 90's Vs. 80's; when Canty stepped away to devote his energies to Fugazi, McLoud and Greene added Temple and Fleisig and kept going. Following Tropic of Scorpio, an album issued by the independent Adult Swim label, GVSB made the leap to Touch and Go, an imprint that seems ready to replace Seattle's Sub Pop as the coolest company on the current scene. Since many major labels look at Touch and Go as a farm team where prospects can prove themselves before being brought up to the big leagues, recent GVSB shows have been littered with A&R people. But McLoud insists he's happy where he is. "If we put out a record that flops on Touch and Go, we'll probably get to make another record," he says. "On a major, we might not."
This cautious approach is probably unnecessary, given the response GVSB has received during its most recent series of gigs. "Everywhere we've gone, people have been more receptive to us than on our last tour," he reveals, somewhat surprised. "Last time, people didn't seem to have any idea what we were doing."
That's appropriate, since McLoud doesn't, either. "When someone asks me what kind of music we play, my cocky stock answer is, `The kind of music you like,'" he says. "But my real answer is, `I don't know.'"
Jawbox, with Girls Against Boys. 9 p.m. Thursday, March 3, Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, $6, 294-9281.
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