Beyond Playlist: Church of Misery and more

Church of Misery Houses of the Unholy (Rise Above/Metal Blade)

The Japanese knack for musical mimicry reaches a new peak on the latest by Church of Misery, which sounds so much like the best hard-rock album from 1975 (or 1985) (or 1995) that listeners can be excused for checking their calendar while it's playing. The band's been around in one configuration or another for fourteen years, and in this case, experience counts. On tracks such as the crazed/brutal opener "Padrino," the scorched boogie blaster "Gray Man," and the Tyrannosaurus Rexcellent closer "Badlands," lead singer Yoshiaki Negishi growls and roars and spits like a shaggy maned hellhound against riff slabs tossed out by guitarist Tom Sutton, an Australian import who most assuredly brings the thunder from down under. Meanwhile, the rhythms created by bassist Tatsu Mikami and drummer Junji Narita crash and smash together with a merry lack of concern for life, limb or litigation. Sure, these elements have been around since long before Geezer Butler needed hair dye -- but the material doesn't give off the slightest whiff of moldy nostalgia. Rather, they erupt with a mad enthusiasm that will have inveterate metalheads lining up for a chance to worship at Church's altar.

Piers Faccini Two Grains of Sand (tôt Ou tard)

In "The Wind That Blows," one of many highlights on this delicate yet surprisingly sturdy offering, Faccini sings, "To fall away/To leave the fray" -- an appropriate turn of phrase since, like the Denver group whose name pops up in the last line, he's had his music featured on Grey's Anatomy. But if "A Storm Is Going to Come," a tune that got its ABC closeup in March, fits within the sonic template established by the show, it skirts stereotypes instead of exploiting them for commercial purposes. Because the Bedfordshire native draws upon English folk-rock tradition with the casualness of someone for whom the music has long been entwined with his DNA, the piercingly lovely title cut, the sly, sinewy "Your Name No More," the wonderfully warm "Home Away From Home" and the concluding, and conclusive, "My Burden Is Light" exude a timelessness that's beyond most of his contemporaries. Moreover, his graceful tenor, which manages to seem both wispy and raspy at times, proves to be the ideal match for the spare instrumentation, frequently enhanced by Vincent Segal's subtle cello. The combination is as lovely as Patrick Dempsey's profile -- and likely to last even longer.

Sugarland Live on the Inside (Mercury Nashville)

Sugarland is a two-headed Taylor Swift -- a country act that teens and twenty-somethings who hate country can actually enjoy. And Live on the Inside, a Walmart exclusive that comes with a DVD, makes plain the reasons for the combo's crossover appeal via a set list heavy with covers from the world of rock. The range is almost ridiculously wide: For instance, "Circle," co-written by Edie Brickell (eeesh), is followed directly by Pearl Jam's "Better Man" (zzzzz). Nonetheless, lead singer Jennifer Nettles and one-man musical support staff Kristian Bush have such a strong sonic personality that the tunes make sense next to each other, and are considerably more diverting than expected. Versions of Kings of Leon's "Sex is On Fire" and Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable" have an even higher level of difficulty, but the twosome pull those off, too, along with a couple of R.E.M. efforts, "Nightswimming" and "The One I Love." Indeed, the only true miss is a version of the B-52's "Love Shack" that any halfway decent bar band could have managed. The rest of the time, Sugarland is much better than that. Even Kenny Chesney haters would probably agree.

Royalchord The Good Fight (Supply and Demand)

There's not much to Royalchord's music -- and it works better that way. Aussie cohorts Tammy Haider and Eliza Hiscox keep things simple, utilizing primitive electronic filigree and other aural doodads in addition to acoustic guitar to offset their unadorned singing, which tends toward the declamatory until they harmonize. (Then, their voices merge in a manner that doesn't need swaddling in echo to ring true -- although there's no denying that the studio effects add a certain ethereality to "Midnight Lines.") Likewise, the lyrics show no sign of over-reliance on a thesaurus, with the "Purple Valium" couplet "Here we go again -- my heartache/Here we go again -- my pain" proving that extra syllables aren't needed when the words match the sentiments. True, Haider and Hiscox may play the ironic-detachment card a bit too often. In the end, though, The Good Fight makes an impact even when the main weapons are passive-aggressiveness.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts