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Various Artists
Bluegrass Essentials

Aptly titled crash course in the basics: 18 tunes, some covers, some originals, recorded 1954-present. Archivist Mary Katherine Aldin includes some lovely items, especially Del McCoury's wife-killing ballad, "Rain & Snow." Just as familiar are Flatt & Scruggs' thundering banjos on the traveling-music "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" and the Osborne Brothers' delightful theme song, "Rocky Top" (one of those few times in popular music that minor chords are used to express happiness). Less well-known tracks by Alison Krauss, the Country Gentlemen, the Dillards and the Seldom Scene round out the album. Bluegrass may be a simple form of music to describe (in its instrumentation and tempo, anyway); what's really remarkable about it is how apposite it is to a range of everyday experience, from work to rest, from pain to celebration. This music will make you glad to be alive. (Richard von Busack)


Grand Royal

It's easy to dismiss the bubble-gum punk of teenage trio Bis as a cutesy novelty act. But to do so would be a mistake, because with its second album, Bis injects a much-needed jolt of youthful exuberance into the nearly moribund indie-rock world. Intendo is an amalgam of speedy punk, New Wave deadpan and twee cheekiness that borrows the Primitives and the Pixies. The mechanized vocalist on "Clockwork Punk" ("I am a computer, and I danced like metronome") could be the Sugarcubes' Einar or Fred Schneider of the B-52s, while the ironic call-and-response "la, la, la" chorus on "Famous" resembles the lighter side of Sleater-Kinney. Sure, song titles like "Ninja Hi Skool" and "Cookie Cutter Kid" make rebellion seem adorable; like rock candy, though, Bis' sweetness has lots of jagged edges. (Michelle Goldberg)

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Dead Man in the Car

This series of twisted tales could be the soundtrack to the life of a character in a dusty desert road thriller. Extreme danger hovers over the music, while visions of wife beaters and run-down trailer homes come to mind. With themes ranging from melancholy masturbation ("Jack") to spending holidays with alcoholics ("Thanksgiving") to dirty south-of-the-border whorehouses ("Paradise"), Bay of Pigs founder Colin Edwards (a.k.a. Tack) presents a vulgar world fueled by the fascination of the abominable. The lines shred sanity while Tack skillfully delivers driving bass grooves, distorted vocals and dark, heavy rhythms. Edwards draws two soundtrack musicians into his madness: experimental guitarist Rick Cox (Lost Boys) and Chas Smith (Flesh and Bone). (Sarah Quelland)

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Girls Against Boys

The Prodigy proved that arena-rock guitars could be incorporated into techno; Girls Against Boys have done the reverse, using hard house flourishes to spice up glam punk. In parts, Freak*On*Ica seems like an attempt to carve out a place for alt-rockers in a world where polysexual club culture has replaced the old four-boys-with-guitars formula. How else to explain lyrics like "Yeah club now music lover/The music is cool right forever/Whatever" from "Roxy." But despite the techno loop on "Pleasurized" and the scratching on "Black Hole," the album consists mostly of down-and-dirty rawk. The album is occasionally embarrassing in its earnest boyish fury, but the best songs have delicious Pixies-style hooks and layers of meaning beneath their free-verse rants. Blasted out of a car window on a city night, it might even convince a die-hard club kid that rock matters again, at least for a minute or two. (MG)

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From the July 9-15, 1998 issue of Metro.

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