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JUNE 5, 2000: 

**1/2 Nine Days THE MADDING CROWD (550 Music/Sony)

This debut disc from the Long Island fivesome Nine Days was produced by Nick DiDia, who's best known for his work with grunge production guru Brendan O'Brien on many a flannel-shirted classic. But don't be fooled -- Nine Days don't do loud and mopy. They're heirs to the Third Eye Blind/Semisonic pop throne, as The Madding Crowd's peppy lead single, "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)," attests. Of the two singer/songwriter types they've got up front, John Hampson makes the stronger impression, belting out upbeat tracks like "257 Weeks" and "Revolve" in an earthy tenor that sometimes recalls ex-Jellyfish crooner Andy Sturmer. Brian Desveaux sings okay too, but his "Bob Dylan" -- a clumsily worded tribute, with 3EB-style hip-hop overtones -- is the disc's one cringe-inducing moment. The duo's lyrics suffer from the kind of literary pretension you'd expect from a bunch of guys who named their album after a Thomas Hardy novel; the closing-time philosophizing of "End Up Alone" -- as in "dead, drunk, or stoned" and, of course, "like a rolling stone" -- is particularly hackneyed. Still, like most of the songs on the disc, it gets by on melody alone. As for the group's playing, it's solid if unspectacular, with B3 organist Jeremy Dean providing most of the instrumental flourish. -- Sean Richardson

*** Nash Kato DEBUTANTE (Will/Loosegroove)

If you were an Urge Overkill fan, it was hard to get past the feeling that the Chicago trio threw in the towel before they had a real chance to make good on the promise of 1993's Saturation. That was the album where the band backed up the ironic retro '70s fetish they'd been working on since the mid '80s with the kind of big, sweeping guitar hooks, extra crunchy power chords, and Formica-smooth production values that might have gotten them an opening slot with Cheap Trick at Budokan back in the day. And then, well, they made the obligatory half-hearted burn-out album about what a drag it is being rock stars and quietly faded outta sight, or something like that.

Well, seven unlucky years have passed and Urge principal Nash Kato is back to finish what Saturation started by himself, or at least without the rest of the band (save drummer Blackie Onasis, who doesn't play on the album but does get a half-dozen co-songwriting credits). Which is fine because Kato's relaxed vocalizations and crisp and compressed humbucking hooks were the main Overkill touchstones. His sucking-in-the-'70s shtick and too-decadent-to-give-a-shit attitude have lost some of their sparkle because that's what shticks and stoned poses do. But he's still got a way with the riffage and a knack for latching onto melodies you swear you remember from some song you heard on the radio as a kid but can never quite place. He's retained much of the Urge esthetic; he's even added some vaguely ELOish processed background vocals that should be much more annoying than they are. But then, that's always been a big part of Kato's wry appeal. -- Matt Ashare

**1/2 Julius Papp GO DEEP WITH JULIUS PAPP VOL 2 (Maxi)

Papp is one of the new generation of house-music DJs, folks who were club kids themselves, or only recently become DJs, during house music's 1986-1991 first phase. Now a 13-year veteran of the house scene, Papp is a mixer of the old school, one who improvises his segues from one record to another instead of just selecting a program. Thus, as he moves from Cevin Fisher's "The Way We Used To" to Big Muff's "Feel What You Know" to his own "Diskomystic" to the Soul Movement's "Something About the Music," the beat syncopation doesn't just progress, it kicks its heels, slides, curtsies, jets -- effects created in the music by Papp's cuts, overlays, drop-ins. Unfortunately, the Maxi people have restricted him to tracks released on Maxi, and the inevitable sameness of tone and personality detracts from his delicate sleights of hand -- though the label does get to showcase the ingenious Big Muff, plus two Soul Movement tracks that deserve attention from Philly disco adepts as well as house fans: "Deidre" and the already mentioned "Something About the Music." -- Michael Freedberg

*** David Thomas and Foreigners BAY CITY (Thirsty Ear)

David Thomas, you know: he's the Jehovah's Sasquatch who's led Pere Ubu through three decades of art-punk ("avant-garage," in his words) mischief. He's also kept up a parallel solo career, backed by impermanent ensembles from the Pedestrians to Two Pale Boys. Here, he joins forces with three Danish improvisers barely known stateside, all of them allied with the Copenhagen-based Skraep collective. Billing percussionist P.O. Jorgens, guitarist Jorgen Teller, and clarinettist/bassist Per Buhl Acs as "Foreigners" seems a little flip, especially as the disc was recorded in Denmark. But the name underscores the set's emphasis on the three-way collision of unmistakably American source material, the musicians' distorted interpretation thereof, and Thomas's ever-skewed voice and vision.

Bay City was Raymond Chandler's name for Southern California's capital of corruption in numerous stories, so it's no surprise to encounter noir tropes, from femmes fatales ("Charlotte") to road trips ("Salt"), though Thomas also glances at gospelized pleading ("White Room") and that old soul standby, the break-up song -- "I can't eat beans out of a can and keep the house tidy and neat if you go," he moans in "The Doorbell." Meanwhile, the Foreigners supply backdrops ranging from minimal ("Clouds of You") to multilayered ("15 Seconds"). The best moments set the familiar against the abstract: "Shaky Hands" alternates between rapid Roy Rogers clip-clop and spacious sections evoking Derek Bailey and Evan Parker at their most unfettered. A few repetitive pieces don't merit their length, and Bay City isn't nearly as ambitious as Thomas's recent theater piece and album, Mirror Man. But its canny deployment of time-tested stylistic signposts makes it one of his most user-friendly solo efforts. -- Franklin Bruno

*** Cash Audio GREEN BULLET (Touch and Go)

A raucous and rootsy rock duo-turned-trio who have been known to fry bacon on stage during their sets to create the proper ambiance, Cash Audio went by the name of Cash Money until legal tussles with the Cash Money rap label made a name change seem like a good idea. Other than that, not much has changed for these guys on their first disc with the new moniker. Their specialty is still a swampy high-octane blues as reimagined by Chicago white boys with a Led Zeppelin fixation. Melody is almost nonexistent, and finesse is beside the point.

Like most of Cash Audio's oeuvre, the tracks on Green Bullet sound so muddy that vocalist John Humphrey (formerly of God and Texas) might as well be underwater. Although they share some surface-level similarities with fellow indie-rock roadhouse punks the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Cash Audio are less pretentiously self-conscious and a lot more fun. The addition of harmonica player Dave Pasow to the guitar/drums format does seem to have steered the group away from the occasional countrified number that popped up on past Cash Money releases, if only because they're now so well equipped to tackle tracks like "44 Blues," which takes up where Hound Dog Taylor's version left off, and the Yardbirds' "Got To Hurry." -- Allison Stewart

*** Bedhead Loved Macha MACHA LOVED BEDHEAD (Jetset)

Here's an interesting premise: two pairs of brothers grow up together in Wichita Falls, Texas, and form their first band in high school. After graduation, they go their separate ways, with each pair of siblings subsequently forming its own acclaimed indie outfit. They all remain friends, and one day, with their hearts set on collaborating, Bedhead bro's Matt and Bubba Kadane (now based in Dallas) mail a tape of half-finished songs (mostly guitars and drums) to Macha's Joshua and Mischo McKay (now based in Athens), who then flesh out the melodies with an array of instruments like vibraphone, zither, and hammered dulcimer.

How good is the result? Well, let's just say that the US Postal Service is two-for-two when it comes to recent collaborative projects (last year, Tara Key and Rick Rizzo also had success with this stamp-licking approach when they made Dark Edson Tiger.) Although one might not expect Bedhead's hushed minimalism to jibe with the more far-flung impulses and exotically embroidered worlds Macha are given to conjuring, in both the former's slowcore majesty and the latter's avant, Indonesian-spiced trance pop, atmosphere is everything, so this meeting of the minds does make sense. This is hazy, undulating music that sounds and feels like a beautiful mirage. The cool part is that it's real. In fact, the grand, swirling expanse of "Hey Goodbye" (which reads something like a farewell, since Bedhead split up before the disc's completion) and the magnificent momentum of "You and New Plastic" suggest a supergroup whose brotherly intuition is matched only by their collective capacity for the sublime. -- Jonathan Perry

*** A Perfect Circle MER DE NOMS (Virgin)

Tool's Maynard James Keenan is almost solely responsible for the continuity of that most fevered of hard-rock pipe dreams: a version of heavy metal that's both commercially blockbusterish and (cough) cerebral. There is mystery in the man's metal, and in his mettle.

On the debut of his concurrent don't-call-it-a-side-project, Keenan indulges more art and slightly less rock (though there's plenty that'd segue just fine into "Stinkfist" or "Prison Sex"), with an eye to elucidating the shadowy elegance lurking behind even the most toxic of Tool's astral projections. On Tool's Aenima, Keenan played the dark, twisted ingenue; here he's given more to outbursts of formal grace and classic-lit namedropping. Former Tool guitar tech Billy Howerdel's understated sci-fi-noir knob twiddling serves its purpose -- an announcement of progressiveness -- though the occasional drum 'n' bass loop is strictly yesterday's snooze. In any case, Mer de Noms succeeds as a confusion less of genre than of gender -- for all his dark matter, Keenan's always been the metal dude most likely to forsake Ozzfest for Lilith Fair. There's something keenly feminine about the way he probes the slippery moist and tender spot between seduction and violation, and when on "Thinking of You" he gets all drippy over the line "sweet revelations/sweet surrendering," there's more than a casual resemblance to Sarah McLachlan's "Sweet Surrender." -- Carly Carioli

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