This week's impressive platter of local offerings seems like a good place to start. All four of these albums warrant some chunky column space for a couple of reasons. They're from four disparate though prominent local acts and, unlike a large percentage of local releases, possess strong production values that make them ready for wide distribution. Look for 'em at a record store near you.
I'll begin with an album that would be on my "keepers" list no matter what town it came from: Acrobat Down's RE:Dereliction, a twelve-song gem released on the band's Atact Musicalities imprint. On this release, Acrobat Down successfully marries some of the more traditional aspects of pop-song construction with an aggressiveness and experimental approach that isn't afraid of either extreme. Lovely touches run throughout this record, adding a textural element to the airtight melodies and nearly flawless execution: a classical piano on "X-Wise Children" provides a nice contrast to singer Aaron Hobbs's weird vocal harmonies; though they sound like video-game noises, keyboard interludes heighten a tug-on-your-heartstrings melodic thread on "The Denver Boot." The origin of some strange noises on "Never Haircut" is still a mystery to me -- they sound something like a Siamese cat in heat, which winds up to be a good thing. As the primary lyricist, Hobbs is witty, tough and sometimes surprising: "So long gone/So thrown away/So unlisted," from "Dreamgirl Obsolete"; "The Beauty Club" offers, "I know. I'm in deep now/How do you petrify yourself?" (Which, incidentally, due to strange placement in the liner notes, reads, "How do you petrify your elf?") Acrobat Down is a band with energy -- and with ideas, as evidenced by "Getaway Day," which begins with a collage of found sound before launching into a furious guitar-driven song of desperation and hope, with an almost funky-robot Herbie Hancock thing happening during a prolonged instrumental ending. I was sold before, but that funky robot really sealed the deal. (Available at area record stores.)
Next up is Haxtun, the much belabored fourth release from Jux County. Jux County has been making music in Denver since the late Eighties, and the band's name is such a staple that it wouldn't be a huge surprise if someone actually tried to locate said county on a map. Singer/guitarist Andrew Monley, who along with bassist Chris Pearson also serves in the Czars, leads the Haxtun expedition, and the result is surprisingly fresh. The full sound that prevails throughout this six-song EP makes it difficult to believe it's the work of only three players -- I guess that's the effect they were going for during the three years it reportedly took to complete production. The release opens with "Come See," an eerie, roving, slightly surf-rock narrative. The Jux trio once provided the soundtrack for a local play (The Plague Song, which ran at the Changing Scene Theater years back), and that makes sense: Three of six songs border on the episodic and clock in at more than five minutes. Monley is an expressive and dramatic vocalist and not a bad singer to boot, and his lilting vocals are well-matched by his guitar style. "Bummer" finds him promising "I could sleep a fitful sleep and dream a fitful dream," which is a good description of the Jux County sound. Though most of the melodies are gentle and restrained, a certain explosiveness lies beneath their surface, hinted at by drummer Ron Smith. The Jux County dark side shows in a live recording of "No, It's Not," a strange song that evokes everyone from Sabbath to Primus and Dick Dale -- but is ultimately a Jux original. Throughout the album, nice details abound: Monley manages to make his guitar sound like a cello during some lovely color work on "Bummer"; "Ciniceta" is a nearly perfect, driving pop nugget; "Edgey" manages to be at once extremely accessible and extremely creepy, with a chunky bass line and Monley's distanced vocals sounding as if they were piped through a static filter. Jux County obviously put a lot of thought into the production of this release, and it pays off in many small ways. (Available only at Twist & Shout Records, or through www.velvetennrecords.com.)
In the press materials that accompanied the new self-titled CD from Love.45, guitarist Paul Trinidad makes reference to a recent review of one of the band's live shows, which ran in another publication. "Love.45 played with energy, enthusiasm and an all-around positive feeling." Well, yeah, listening to the eleven immaculately produced tracks here, I guess I can go along with that. The four-man band, which has become a semi-regular presence at clubs like Herman's Hideaway and Cricket on the Hill, has its eyes on the music-business prize, as evidenced by the lyric "Deep inside my dreams at night/I see that I am in the spotlight" from "Ordinary Man." And by design, "Letter to Myself" is a ditty that would have no trouble sliding onto commercial alternative-radio formats. Lyrically, this release ranges from the almost clever ("I kinda wish that you were here/I kinda hope that you are happy," from "Letter to Myself") to the downright silly ("You're like Lex Luthor to me/Your heart is kryptonite," from "Super Hero"). "Dumb" is a ten-gun salute to all things Seattle, with a Cobainy guitar intro and an Alice in Chains-esque chorus. As a vocalist, Micki Shivers (I've been told this is really his name) is at his best when he lets go of rock-star affectations. His forced bravado and strange backphrasing style immediately made me think of Collective Soul and Candlebox -- not a good place to take the listener right off the bat. Though there's nothing particularly inspired about the music on this CD, the tracks are well-played and will likely appeal to those who look to music for a "positive feeling" rather than inspiration, anyway. (Available at area record stores.)
Finally, I submit this last review as a kind of warning. There's something wrong with Jayson Munly Thompson, aka Munly. This is not just my opinion -- he tells us so on Galvanized Yankee, his latest solo-effort on W.A.R. subsidiary Top Notch. There is clearly something wonderfully twisted and weird going on with this record. Eleven songs and one bonus recording long (track twelve finds Munly providing a voice- over for a "Math Made Easy" commercial), Galvanized Yankee weaves banjos, stand-up basses, guitars and chant-like vocals to create what is arguably the world's first avant-garde jug band. Or perhaps Munly is the premier post-modern hillbilly. Beginning with "Funeral Blues," the music on this release moves through a spare and lonely landscape that happily mutates Delta blues, country and folk traditions into a sublime stew. With his strained and distinctive voice (which at times recalls David Byrne or the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano), Munly is the sardonic narrator of the Yankee journey, stopping to create childlike sounds and pose questions along the way. "Who will care for Mother now?" he asks, assuming the character of a young man off to war in a song of the same name, against beautiful, haunting, multi-vocal harmonies and a well-plucked banjo. Despite its title, "Death, Ain't You Got No Shame?" is a surprisingly jolly song-in-the-round that sounds as if it could be emanating from the bar where Animal played drums in The Muppet Movie. If Munly is a soldier fighting a battle in the name of musical originality and creative expression, his opponents would be wise to raise a white flag. (Available in record stores.)