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APRIL 3, 2000: 

**1/2 The Unband RETARDER (TVT)

This rambunctious Northampton power trio are more than just a Yank Nashville Pussy minus the hot chicks. They're a Yank Nashville Pussy who cover Billy Squier, delivering a swift kick to the crotch of their fellow Mass metaller's "Everybody Wants You" on an album full of similarly boisterous gestures. Like Billy, the Unband sing of "loneliness and a-al-co-hawl" and cocaine and smokin' a bowl, so it's no surprise that singer Matt Pierce prefers the whiskey-fied rasp of Motörhead's Lemmy to Mr. Squier's AOR bravado. Although not as prone to full-throttle thrashing as the aforementioned Pussies, the Unband suffer from a similar molten monotony -- nothing here's as catchy as hard rock's reigning revivalist touchstone, Buckcherry's "Lit Up." But they have the amusing habit -- check out "Ski Hat," "Dope (Part 2)," and especially "$#@?!!" -- of riffing straight through what would usually be a song's first couple of verses, throwing in a few lines of debauched lyrics, then cutting the whole thing off around the two-minute mark. It's these controlled doses of alcoholic incoherency, along with more traditional barn burners like "Too Much Is Never Enough," that make Retarder a keeper. -- Sean Richardson


*1/2 THE SUICIDE MACHINES (Hollywood)

It's fitting that the Suicide Machines' third disc should be called The Suicide Machines -- taking a kamikaze dive into Blink-182 blandishment, the foursome have traded the frenetic nth-wave ska punk of their previous efforts for a more polished, ostensibly radio-friendly sound. The album's cleaned-up, occasionally catchy singing is undermined by cliché'd lyrics, and the rhythm section has been mixed down from prickly and punchy to oatmeal smooth. Also, guitarist Dan Lukacinsky's predictable pop-punk progressions lack both the standout, hard-rock qualities that have driven radio-punk hits like "When I Come Around" and "In Bloom" and the seductive glass-shard angularity of his earlier playing. And though the TRL-addicted 12-year-olds who lifted Blink-182 out of near-pop purgatory care more about adolescent gags than a band's roots, the tepid humor on The Suicide Machines probably won't win even them over. The cute kindergarten jest of "Sometimes I Don't Mind," a love ode to a dog ("I talk to you sometimes/Even though you never talk back"), just isn't sophisticated enough for enthusiasts of the rapid-fire juvenile jokes of "What's My Age Again." Meanwhile, the rest of the disc is classic one-joke-wonder filler, from the unfunny irony of "I Hate Everything," with the once-ubiquitous-now-effete ska-guitar scratch buried in its mix, to the hammy hardcore of "Reasons." -- Nick Catucci


** Leona Naess COMATISED (MCA)

Had this past summer's Lilith Fair not been the last, 24-year-old newcomer Leona Naess -- armed as she is with an acoustic guitar, intimate lyrics, natural good looks (she's one of Calvin Klein's new jean models), and a voice that's at once delicate and powerful -- would surely be in the running for a slot on the next tour. Born in Norway, raised in England, and based in New York, Naess brings to mind the sultry introspection of fellow NYC songstress Jennifer Bledsoe of Elysian Fields. She credits Tracy Chapman and Joni Mitchell as primary influences, but the songs on Comatised lean more toward modern-pop arrangements -- they're fleshed out with piano, horns, and dashboard-drumming rhythms -- than stripped-down folk. The disc's upbeat, radio-friendly tunes -- the breezy "Charm Attack" and "Chase" -- are also its most innocuous and generic; Naess's voice shines only on earthier, jazzier tracks like the lovelorn lullaby "Northern Star"; and the lyrics are a little on the sophomoric side. The overall sound is dreamy, hypnotic, and disarming, but too often Naess comes across as just another face in the Lilith crowd, with little to distinguish her from dozens of other up-and-coming female singer-songwriters. -- Mira Shin


** Horace Andy LIVING IN THE FLOOD (Melankolic/Astralwerks)

What is a 49-year-old Jamaican reggae singer doing on an imprint of the ultra-hip American electronic label Astralwerks? Horace Andy's presence here is due to his association with trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack, who introduced his distinctive quavering tenor to wider audiences on their three albums. Although the collaboration with the Bristol beatheads has been good for Andy, the dub-pop masterpieces they recorded together raised expectations for his solo release. And Living in the Flood doesn't quite meet those expectations. Andy's voice is a high, nasal-inflected tenor that uses a curious trick -- a sly and slippery stutter -- to great effect. The writing, too, is a well-balanced mix of classic reggae topics like gun violence ("Johnny Too Bad") and Rasta spirituality ("Seven Seals") mixed with unusual fare like "After All," which chronicles a suicide attempt. But the greatest of voices and lyrics couldn't save this album from production that favors a faceless and slick studio sheen over both the rootsy vibe of Andy's '70s Jamaican work and the brooding British dub of his Massive Attack tracks. -- Michael Endelman


***1/2 Honeyboy Edwards I'VE BEEN AROUND (32 Blues)

David "Honeyboy" Edwards was a pup in his early 60s when these 14 mostly solo performances were recorded. Twenty-two years later he's still going strong, a living connection to the heyday of Delta blues -- in the midst of which he spent his youth riding trains and hitchhiking from logging towns to levee camps to backwoods jukes playing music for tips on paydays. But the roots of his unadorned style go back even farther. They're especially visible in his take on Charley Patton's "Pony Blues," where he beats his guitar like a drum and sings in chanting cadences that sound distinctly African. "I'm a Country Man" showcases Edwards's slide-guitar prowess; high-end screams (pitched to his keening vocal asides) roll in contrast to burly low-string growls in a kind of call-and-response. On his own, Edwards packs all these songs with plenty of dust and raw grit, even when he's not bawling about "going to Chicago just to get my hambone boiled." But the late harmonica legend Big Walter Horton really shades the four numbers he's on. His rich-toned blowing brings teardrop notes to "You're Gonna Miss Me" and skips happily through the declaration of male independence "Things Have Changed." It's a union of kindred spirits, lost to the past if not for splendid reissues like this. -- Ted Drozdowski


**1/2 Guy III (MCA)

This is the long-awaited sequel to Guy's 1990 sophomore effort, the ironically titled The Future. After a decade's absence, all this trio of old-jack swingers have to offer is a collection of well-crafted R&B songs. Let's not look a gift horse in the mouth, though -- it's an exceedingly pleasant listen with only one duff cut, the strained "Not a Day." There are fun quotes of PM Dawn and Prince, and "Love Online" makes shimmering make-out music out of AOL's Instant Message bells (just don't listen while you're signed on or it'll have you searching for nonexistent windows). But there's not much else to keep you coming back. Or maybe it's just that Teddy Riley's trademark subliminal seduction techniques work better with sprightlier tempos. His stint with Blackstreet has obviously convinced him that slow is the way to go. So how well you respond to III depends on how patient you are with letting his come-ons zap you. -- Kevin John


*** The Flashing Lights WHERE THE CHANGE IS (spinART)

Everything you need to know about the Flashing Lights occurs within the first five seconds of the title track, which kicks off this debut project from former Super Friendz frontman Matt Murphy. "Since you've been gone I've been untrue -- hoping you've been untrue too," Murphy confesses as a Rickenbacker guitar blasts brightly into view, toting with it a few licks nicked from the first three or four albums of the Who and the Kinks (not to mention the complete recorded works of the Raspberries). With amphetamine hooks, power-pop heart, and irrepressible charm, the Flashing Lights dig the same kind of crisp snap, crackle, and pop favored by labelmates the Revelers and the band's one-time Canadian tourmates, Sloan. In fact, Murphy writes vivacious, harmony-and-hormone-charged songs that are at least as catchy as those penned by his Halifax pals -- and some that are better. Most of the tunes here are about what you'd expect 'em to be about: girls, school, driving around, and staying young forever. Nearly half have either "day" or "time" in the title. "Where Do the Days Go?" sounds like Eric Carmen back when he was fun. And you can't help wondering how much more perfect "Elevature" would be if it were cranking through a car radio somewhere in 1974. Or the high-school-assembly scene in the next Richard Linklater flick. -- Jonathan Perry


*** Alien Crime Syndicate DUST TO DIRT (Collective Fruit)

A partnership between former Lemons drummer Nabil Ayers and former Meices singer and guitarist Joe Reineke (who ably handles the production side, too), Alien Crime Syndicate sound like a direct musical descendant of both bands. And as they were two of the '90s' better punk-pop guitar nights out, that's a promising combination. Less punk and more pop than the Lemons or the Meices, the band's debut release, Dust to Dirt, combines straightforward guitar assaults, persistent rhythms, and vocals that sneer and snarl, cavort and cajole. There's plenty of fun and attitude here, and enough imagination to make hook-laden anthems like "I Want It All" (which mocks the current trend of greedy Me-isms marketed to the witless as self-fulfillment) and the effects-enhanced opener, "Take Me to Your Leader" (which adds an unobtrusive but pointed guitar solo from Fastbacks' Kurt Bloch), stand out. Dust to Dirt won't change your life, but it will add a certain zing. -- Linda Laban


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