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IDLEWILD 3/21, DOUBLE DOOR Those Brits--always trying to pull a fast one. Now they're painting this quintet of cuties as the latest, hippest thing going, though the band's been making records for six years. It took several producers and preproducers (most notably Lenny Kaye) and an awful lot of elbow grease to transform these former postgrunge yobbos into the post-U2 songwriting machine that churned out their latest album, The Remote Part (EMI). Divided between acoustic ballads of a reasonable caliber and stadium crunch to wave your arms by, the record soars only in its rare moments of eccentricity, like the spoken-word cameo by Scottish poet Edwin Morgan; otherwise it's the sort of product only a label's street team could love. SUNTANAMA, CENTRAL FALLS 3/21, EMPTY BOTTLE Well dang, if it isn't what the world was waiting for: an "accessible" side project from Keith Connolly of the No-Neck Blues Band. On Suntanama's eponymous Drag City debut this New York sextet seems to be playing music for that special outdoorsy type, the Headneck--a good ol' boy who smokes a lot of pot and keeps tapes from both the Dead and Skynyrd in his fitted-out-for-tour pickup. Front man Darren Zoltowski's voice is an excruciating mix of Eddie Vedder, Van Morrison at his most Holy Spirit-addled, and some Van Zant or other, and his facial foliage puts ZZ Top to shame. Meanwhile the three guitarists flop around like catfish in spring mud. Of course the disc's been panned left and right on Web zines. Folks can't seem to decide what would make this worse: if it's a put-on or if it's sincere. Sharing the bill are undoubtedly sincere locals Central Falls; on their new Love and Easy Living (Truckstop), they break free of their prior polite hesitancy, repeating circular lines of acoustic guitar and keyboards that drive sorrowful, delicate weather-watching music. YOUNGBLOOD BRASS BAND 3/21, MARTYRS' The two drummers in this veteran large band from Madison prove themselves capable of every rhythm from hip-hop to samba, while six horn players and a sousaphone-wielding bandleader known as the Warrior work out up top. One of the drummers doubles as MC, and his raps flow just fine over classic jazz, chamber soul, and salsa. In a fragmented music world where many cling desperately to specific trappings of microtraditions in an attempt to prove authenticity, it's good to hear sonic signifiers tossed into the wind like confetti. This is a release party for the band's new album, Center: Level: Roar (Ozone). The somewhat like-minded Drums and Tuba open. BIRDDOG 3/22, HIDEOUT Birddog is primarily the work of one Bill Santen, a Portland songwriter who's cut a few records by his lonesome but works best with strong backup performers challenging his fragile tunes. Elliott Smith and Edith Frost added vocal strength to 2001's Sweet and Bitter Fancy; the new Songs From Willipa Bay (Karma) brings more guests on board, including Jason Loewenstein and Paul Oldham. Keeping to a slow and steady tempo, everyone seems to play at one layer of remove from real time--parts of this sound as cold and blue and wrapped in plastic as Laura Palmer. Santen sometimes captures an elegant indie-rock country-gothic feel, but more often winds up with a zombie-waltz solemnity, oddly reminiscent of Harry Chapin or Gordon Lightfoot. METHADONES, GLASSEATER, MANDA & THE MARBLES 3/22, FIRESIDE BOWL The red-hot Eyeliners are the headliners, but the other acts on the bill make getting there on time worthwhile. The Methadones are members (past and present) of punk outfits Screeching Weasel, the Queers, and Sludgeworth; on their last album, 2001's Ill at Ease (on Anti-Flag's A-F label), a fragile, yearning sort of soul bleeds through the power chords. They're now at work on a follow-up, so expect new material. Miami's Glasseater has a denser multiguitar attack that churns beneath front man Julio Marin's kicked-puppy yelp. Manda & the Marbles, from Columbus, Ohio, are the odd birds of the night. Their debut, More Seduction (recently rereleased on Go-Kart with a couple of new tracks, including a cover of Holly & the Italians' "I Wanna Go Home"), is chipper new-wave pop that bounces contentedly in place--though front woman Manda Marble cannot, by even the loosest definition of the word, sing. ATOM & HIS PACKAGE 3/23, FIRESIDE BOWL One-man band Adam Goren has more fun onstage with his "package" (I'm referring to his keyboard rig) than anyone else who isn't Japanese. Attention! Blah Blah Blah (Hopeless) melds noxiously pseudofuturist synth burble with gleefully cheesy hard-rock riffs--I hear references to both "Spirit in the Sky" and Journey--and Goren's got a good sense of the sing-along. It's easy to laugh at nerds. It's more fun to laugh with 'em. Sole also performs (see Critic's Choice). READ LETTER 3/24, SCHUBAS On this local quintet's self-released debut full-length, Safe, the romantic aura, the songs' formal structure, and the faux limey moan of Mikey Peterson all hint at formative years spent mooning to the Smiths and the Cure, but the buzz of the band's wall of guitars evokes noisy post-Lollapalooza modern rock. I know, I know. But the combination isn't dreadful at all: "Safe and Sound" is sticky, bitter pop, and "The Arsonists" has eerie power. The Webb Brothers headline. BOYRACER 3/27, EMPTY BOTTLE Returning to the boards after a five-year hiatus, these globe-trotting pop punks (part British, part American) have thoroughly defied the life expectancy of a long-distance relationship. They did sorta cheat: the 20 songs on To Get a Better Hold You've Gotta Loosen Your Grip (555) were recorded in almost as many places by almost as many members. To listen is to risk death by sugar buzz--the experience is less like gobbling down handfuls of tiny candies than like gnawing at a chocolate bunny the size of a city block. From what I've read on-line, the familiar, infectious chain-saw-on-coke sound has already provoked a wave of nostalgia among 22-year-olds eager to chastise their 16-year-old readership for missing out on the Good Ol' Days.


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