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Weekly Alibi Tiny Tunes

By Michael Henningsen

Alibi Value Scale Formula:

Total minutes of good music @ 50¢/minute minus total minutes of bad music @ 25 ¢/minute = Value

Luna Pup Tent (Elektra)

Good Minutes: 44:28
Blah Minutes: 2:18 (no cash value)
Bad Minutes: 0
Actual Retail Price: $15.97
Value: $22.14

AUGUST 25, 1997:  Most bands build a theme--and often tension and emotion--over the course of a single record, resolving their work usually in the last minutes of the album. Most records, therefore, have distinct beginnings, passages and endings, whether they are so-called "concept" albums or not. Then there's Luna. Luna have been building on a singular theme--and sublime tension and emotion--over the course of three full-length records and an EP. Each release seems to pick up where the previous one left off, expanding on the ideas that have shaped Luna's music for the past six years.

The catalyst for all of this, of course, is chief songwriter/lyricist/guitarist/vocalist Dean Wareham. And for him, the notion of my- life- is- just- one- long- record- broken- into- installments began in 1988 with an East Coast trio called Galaxie 500. By 1991, though, the shimmering guitar pop band to end all shimmering guitar pop bands had dissolved, and Wareham found himself in the musical company of ex-Feelies drummer Stanley Dmenski and ex-Chills bassist Justin Harwood. Lunapark followed, the first of a brilliant string of guitar-based rock records that peaked in 1995 with Penthouse. Penthouse is, perhaps, the perfect Luna record, the most clearly stated document of Wareham's unique musical vision.

While Pup Tent isn't the glistening breakthrough record that was its predecessor, it does represent a marked shift in musical direction for Luna. Where Penthouse was almost rife with exemplary pop songs, Pup Tent offers boundless experimentation and a dark, gritty side of Luna you may have thought didn't exist. Guitarist Sean Eden, who came on board for Bewitched, Luna's third release, plays with angry abandon, giving songs like "IHOP" and "Fuzzy Wuzzy" an acid rock life all their own. The antithesis to this is his subtle ambient texturing on tracks like "Beautiful View" and "The Creeps."

And with Dmenski having been replaced on drums by Lee Wall (formerly of the New York band, 44), there is also a rhythmic difference between Pup Tent and Luna's previous offerings. The drumming is more determined and far less relaxed, giving bassist Harwood the ability to stretch out in his playing. The new pairing results in some very dangerous grooves within a more jam oriented framework.

And although Wareham occasionally transgresses his own lyrical genius by deadpanning inane lines like "You're no Cary Grant/But then again, who is?" he more than makes up for it with true lyrical brilliance otherwise, on just about every song on the record. His alternately droning and trembling guitar sound is the perfect creepy accompaniment to the other instrumental elements that make Pup Tent by far the most visionary of Luna releases.

Pup Tent will almost assuredly blindside Luna fans with its occasional dollop of brash distortion and feedback, but the initial surprise will soon give way to the realization that this has been brewing and carefully cultivated for a long, long time. Run, don't walk, to your nearest record store.

Fuck Pardon My French (Matador)

Good Minutes: 4:39
Blah Minutes: 18:12 (no cash value)
Bad Minutes: 15:36
Actual Retail Price: $14.97
Value: -$1.64

Note: For best results, read the following line as Captain James T. Kirk under great duress.

"Can't (pause) write. (Long pause) Choking (pause) on own (pause) vomit ... ."

Far be it from Matador to release something I hate like a redheaded brother. Or so I thought. My roommate Dave and I joked about the funny band name and brilliant press kit--replete with word games, cryptoquips and mazes. Then we put the record on and the reality of "the better the press kit, the worse the band" immediately settled in.

Fuck sounds like a shitty version of Cake before Cake were shitty themselves. The image of a yawning Frenchman adorns the back cover of the CD. How fitting.

--Michael Henningsen

Next Week: The Sultans, Man or Astro-Man? and maybe Power Station.

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