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[whitespace] Back to the Future

The next big thing in college rock has metallic echoes of the 1980s

By David Espinoza

IF SESSIONS RECORDS' latest release by Austin's Pop Unknown is any indication of where post-WARPED tour college rock is headed, it's back to the 1980s. It's not just these guys either--just listen carefully to anything by emo-pop dudes Jimmy Eat World and you'll hear echoes of big-haired metal in between the piercing guitar lines. The same could be said about At the Drive In's dramatic live shows--that is, before they crashed and burned last year. Vocally, Pop Unknown's latest offering, The August Division, is less Hanoi Rocks and more the distant offspring of the Smithereens and the Furs' Richard Butler--only much heavier.

Guitarists Joel Ganucheau and Matt Breedlove have salvaged the tiresome wreck that is melodic hardcore, and turned to U2's Edge. (As it turns out, all that needed to be done was to turn off the distortion and slow down.) On the dreamy soundscape of "As God and Everest," the two guitarists lay it on thick with delay effects that are pure ear candy--not necessarily healthy for the body but a guilty pleasure worth tasting at least once. The album certainly has its moments, like on The Invisibly Complex, which, whether it was intended or not, plays like a soundtrack to a teen romance film full of "my world is coming to an end over you" sorrow. Then, there's the relapse on "B-sides," where the splendid guitar leads can't save the song from sinking into the standard modern punk format. The hardcore screaming toward the end of the tune seems completely out of place and a waste of energy.

At his best moments, frontman Tim Lasater's voice sounds like a serious version of Weezer. Near the end of The August Division, Pop Unknown peak on "The Next Big Thing," in which Lasater sings, "You finally made it out to Hollywood / It's not exactly what you thought it was--your obsession to be the next big thing." Ironically, the production and writing of the album sound exactly like what Hollywood wants these days. Perhaps Pop Unknown could be the next big thing.

Pre-Teen Scene

While the upper echelons of female college rock bands are more scenester than the stores at the south end of Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz expatriates the Pre-Teens' latest full length, Sunday Morning Service, keeps the music where it needs to be: bold, honest and raw. The 10-track effort off the Berkeley-based 11345 Records is a post-punk indie dream come true--think early '90s Subpop Records bands like Velocity Girl. There's nothing particularly cute about the trio or their music; they play hard and fast, without any pretenses. Most of the songs clock in under three minutes, with vocalists Cristina Espinosa or Laura belting out lyrics like, "This is me, new and old / throw your arms around me, let's rock & roll!" Scrawny bassist Espinosa is big on riding open strings, which lends the band just the right amount of texture to Laura's gritty-as-gravel guitar hooks. The band can't completely escape the paradigm of Sleater Kinney but smartly get it over on Track 3, "Long Drive," in which they pay their warbling dues and move on. Some of the best material is saved till the end, like on "Who Needs Who." There the band just goes ballistic with power chords that would make Soundgarden proud and indie-punk vocals sure to set off any pit.

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From the March 20-27, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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