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DANGLERS 3/16, MARTYRS' And now for something completely different--really. It's not just this Milwaukee trio's instrumentation--upright bass, violin, and drums--that charms me. It's what they do with it. Three years old and already with an EP and a couple of live releases floating around, they've at last gotten around to making a full-length studio album. The self-titled CD, produced by former Violent Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo, is a geographical and chronological crazy quilt of virtuosic and at times romantic acoustic prog--it's like what might happen if, say, Uz Jsme Doma were to collaborate with Andrew Bird. Not too many people are willing to go out on this limb at the moment--and maybe that's a good thing, because while I like this, third-generation imitations of it would doubtless be horrible. ORSO 3/16, The HIDEOUT Orso's charming album from last year, Long Time By (Perishable), had a very familiar shamblin', ramblin' like-electronica-only-with-banjos feel to it, and with good reason: the personnel list featured members of Rex and Red Red Meat. I think of Perishable, the label home to all this uncategorizable stuff, as a big, well-loved couch, full of lost earrings and pocket change and cat hair, where the housemates can happily sprawl all over the place and do whatever they feel like. Sometimes the un-tidiness is less than revelatory--during a late-period Red Red Meat show, a friend of a friend remarked that it was like watching a fat bird trying to fly--but usually it produces some beautiful moments. The player whose personality dominates this particular outlet, string man, rattler and shaker, vocalist, and former Rex bassist Phil Spirito, promises something a little different this time. Drummer Ben Massarella is sitting out to concentrate on the label and on Califone, leaving Orso drumless, and saxist Carlo Cennamo of Him will sit in; also violinist and violist Julie Liu, who played on both Orso albums, will perform live with the band for the first time. Spirito describes the result as "more like a gypsy wedding band," which to me suggests that they might pick up the pace a little--but maybe he means something else. PUTA-PONS 3/16, EMPTY BOTTLE This chirpy, jagged trio has been gigging like crazy around Chicago for about three years, refining their analog-appropriate mojo before finally committing it to digital--this is a release party for their first full-length, Return to Zero (Vinahyde). About time, some would say, but considering how many CDs I get from bands who put out records before they even go on their first tour, and what most of these sound like, I commend them for waiting. The most interesting punk rock these days only sounds simple--the key is to make clashing guitar lines, giddy colliding melodies, and contrapuntal shrieks sound easy, and the more you play in front of actual people the better you get at it. And, promisingly, as accomplished as this debut is (sing-along of the year: "Kwashiorkor Fashion"), it still sounds like an excuse to have a party. VAN ZANT 3/16, HOUSE OF BLUES Donnie and Johnny Van Zant are the younger brothers of Ronnie Van Zant, who died in the plane crash that ended Lynyrd Skynyrd's brief but glorious run as the standard-bearer for southern rock 'n' roll. Johnny's now in what's left of Skynyrd, but he held down a solo career before that, and Donnie is the leader of .38 Special, who, though never quite in the same league as Skynyrd, aren't as bad as current fashion would have you think. So you already know exactly what Van Zant II (CMC International) sounds like, don't you? What, you thought they'd go techno? WOLF EYES 3/16, FIRESIDE BOWL Ah, the delirium of damage. The Michigan-based Wolf Eyes, which includes Hanson Records main man Aaron Dilloway and Nautical Almanac veteran Nate Young (and has recently become a trio), has released a small stream of beautiful and mesmerizing electronic crunch built out of jury-rigged noise boxes, doing things no one else does with tapes and distorted beats, creating a happy, tangled, deceptively simple maze of rhythmic sound that is to more stiff and po-faced noise and electronic music as the Seeds were to the Beatles. They share this bill with Metaluxx, Kevin Drumm, and the new lineup of the Flying Luttenbachers. SCRAWL 3/17, THE HIDEOUT For every hyperoonie story of an indie band made "good," there are ten often better tales of bands that fell by the wayside or simply got lost. But the most admirable of all are those that do neither--Columbus, Ohio's, Scrawl has never been blinded by the light, never been on the forefront of any big new thing. Even the women-in-rock foofaraw mostly left this two-woman, one-man trio behind. For the last dozen or so years they've simply been one of the best indie-rock bands in the midwest, quietly beloved by the Columbus scene and by audiences in the strings of clubs they play. Their last album, Nature Film, was acclaimed almost across the board by everyone who heard it, but that's still not exactly a mass audience. Now Scrawl is down to a duo of bassist-vocalist Sue Harshe and guitarist-vocalist Marcy Mays, drummer Dana Marshall having moved to Europe. They perform with a drum machine these days; in a dispatch on their Web site they say of a recent gig, "Our dueling DJXs seemed to have minds of their own, which contributed to some spontaneous moments." Considering that at that gig they say they rushed the stage during the Ass Ponys' set, and other recent appearances have included a "Bon-a-thon" (all Bon Scott, all the time) for charity and a stab at some Bertolt Brecht songs at a Columbus theater, I'd say spontaneity is still not a problem for these veterans. MICE PARADE 3/22, EMPTY BOTTLE Mokoondi (Bubble Core) is the third full-length from Bubble Core owner Adam Pierce, a multi-instrumentalist drummer who's accompanied this time on vibes, strings, synths, and whatnot by members of the Dylan Group, Tower Recordings, and the German chamber rock group Alles Wie Gross. (For this tour, he's accompanied only by Doug Scharin, whose "solo" project Him works on a similar revolving-door concept.) The 13 tracks on the CD are divided among nine songs, which creates a lot of room for development and improvisation, and yes, it does occasionally degenerate into blissed-out lukewarm fusion. The press release claims that there's "more of a direct focus on the rhythms and melodies found in the Pygmy cultures of the African rain forest," but it still sounds pretty much like first-world college-boy stuff to me. But when it hits--as in the opener of "Open Air Dance," which strikes up a sort of synthetic central Asian dance-music vibe, or for that matter in any of the moments when Pierce chings away happily on his cheng, a Chinese harp that adds a new color to the standard pastel palette, or in "Man on the Beach in Brasil," in which a singing coconut vendor completely steals the show--Pierce's private world is rather inviting. RED MEAT 3/22, the HIDEOUT Not to be confused with Red Red Meat, this band from San Francisco plays undiluted honky-tonk--the concept of which, although they're three albums into it and have been working with Dave Alvin for years, some people still can't wrap their minds around. I guess it's because country folk can't afford to live anywhere near the Bay Area anymore. But Alameda County Line (Ranchero) is the real thing--the straightforwardly sad "This Property's Condemned" isn't about gentrification in the Mission; it's about a failing marriage and a crumbling house. So close your eyes and pretend they're from Austin if it makes you feel better.

--Monica Kendrick

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