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LUNA, MERCURY REV 10/6, METRO Penthouse (Elektra), the third album by Luna, explores the same post-Velvet Underground strum grooves the combo has been working since it formed in 1992, after the dissolution of Galaxie 500, leader Dean Wareham's previous band. With rolling rhythms and gentle melodies polished to a new luster, the band has continued to refine its sound, but its basic approach--enveloping Wareham's shy warble in hypnotic guitar strumming and hydroplaning rhythms--remains the same. Though Penthouse doesn't even hint at the band's impressive slow-burn live power, it's another exceedingly pleasant collection, including guest spots by Tom Verlaine and Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier. Mercury Rev's third album, See You on the Other Side (Work), in keeping with their previous efforts, is an overblown carnival of divergent sounds strung together with dental floss. Almost painfully eclectic, the album's twisted pop songs slowly bubble up from beneath a freewheeling amalgam of gurgling synths, cloudy guitars, psychedelic flutes, pinched clarinet, queasy organ, and more. GOD LIVES UNDERWATER 10/6 ARAGON Using a low-tech strain of industrial disco as a point of departure, God Lives Underwater's new album Empty (American) actually has its moments: stumbling through a stripped-down sound world, the band by and large eschews the genre's de rigueur excesses. Unfortunately these moments blatantly suggest the sensitive parts of various Nine Inch Nails songs, so you shouldn't feel bad if you confuse the two, although GLU look a bit more like "normal" people. They open for KMFDM and Korn. BEN HARPER 10/7, RIVIERA On his second album, Fight for Your Mind (Virgin), Ben Harper has shed his political naivete, leaving behind the simplistic "shine a light" positivity that smothered his promising debut. His work remains soaked with sincerely rendered struggles both personal and political, but the messages are delivered with greater universality and understanding, and Harper's writing and singing exudes more confidence and originality. Though the album ends on a dead thud with a couple of long cuts, his Weissenborn playing and nifty post-Ry Cooder guitar remain solid, fitting into his band's tight, particularly lean grooves better than on his debut. Harper opens for PJ Harvey, who's merely the best live act in rock today. N.I.L.8 10/7, DOUBLE DOOR Gee, another generic funk-metal combo. Chicago's N.I.L.8--say it out loud to appreciate the band's Van Halen-esque humor--is a multiracial unit ("two whities and two blackies," they call themselves) delivering amped-up groove metal with plenty of half-baked angst. After hearing their recent debut, Eunuch (Fuse), it's hard to imagine anything sounding more like a sloppy assortment of Red Hot Chili Peppers appropriations. SATURNINE 10/7, EMPTY BOTTLE While they've dropped the "60" from their name, Saturnine haven't relinquished the post-Galaxie 500 guitar swirl that characterizes their music. On its solid, recently released Wreck at Pillar Point (Dirt), this New York combo continues to play up its extroverted tendencies: bold melodic explication, guitar playing that occasionally ascends with a scream rather than a ring, and a hookiness that's more provocative than evocative. RUSTY 10/8, METRO Fluke (TAG/Atlantic), the silly debut album from this Canadian foursome, combines a variety of alternative rock archetypes--most prominently Soul Asylum's earnest-party-boy rock and Pearl Jam's earnest-brooding-boy rock--into something so gloriously average you'll find yourself wondering if Rusty wasn't actually conceived by a bunch of suits, a la the Monkees. JONATHA BROOKE & THE STORY 10/9, SCHUBAS Not having heard the Story's first two albums, I can't be sure how Jonatha Brooke's decision to step out in front of the band changes things, but it seems unlikely that their recent Plumb (Blue Thumb) represents any sort of improvement. Soaked in ethereal post-Joni Mitchell grandeur, the new album places enigmatic narratives and ruminations within a variety of musical settings, all of them favoring middle-of-the-road gentility over grittiness. If Sinead O'Connor and Kate Bush seem too challenging for you, if you miss Suzanne Vega or wish Rickie Lee Jones would stop washing her hair, there's a good chance Jonatha Brooke will make you smile. STIFFS, INC., JONATHAN FIRE*EATER 10/12, EMPTY BOTTLE If they were English, New York's Stiffs, Inc. could fit nicely into the "new wave of new wave" scene; since they're not they'll have to settle for being considered eccentric and fashion-minded. On their debut, Nix Nought Nothing (Onion/American), the band provide a watered-down post-Buzzcocks attack for goofy vocalist Whitey Sterling, who lifts as much from glam-era Bowie as he does from Pete Shelley. If you think the biggest problem with American alt rock is its lack of fashion sense, Stiffs, Inc. ought to assuage your beleaguered eyes; don't expect much for your ears, however. I haven't heard Jonathan Fire*Eater's 1994 debut album, but based on a recent eponymous three-song EP these D.C.-to-NYC transplants have the chops and ideas to back up their hipster proclivities. The band's swarthy destructo-roots stew fuses distended rockabilly licks, funereal organ, sludgy rhythms, and the Lux Interior-meets-Kim Salmon croon of Stewart Lupton, and the sum is considerably more substantial than its parts.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Erich Zander.

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