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DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE 10/10 & 11, METRO Seattle cult band Death Cab for Cutie have never been bad, but they've never made it over the remarkability threshold either--until now, with Transatlanticism (Barsuk). There's a new sense of focus here, as if they've decided to make their lush-lite, tastefully boisterous guitar pop as good as it can be: making sure the melodies are there and the lyrics are pared down to mordantly vulnerable efficiency before piling on the flourishes (or letting them go out almost naked, as in "Passenger Seat"). The result is a clutch of songs I can imagine someone remembering well enough to cover ten years down the road. HENTCHMEN 10/10, NEVIN'S LIVE Some would say it's disingenuous to be a garage band nowadays, that it's as much a business plan as a stylistic preference. Maybe so, but the Hentchmen (some of whom play in the Paybacks too) have been at it since 1992, so by the time they appeared on Jack White's compilation Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit a couple years ago, they must have been happy just to see a scene finally grown up around them. There's a momentum now to their clattery, almost surfy sound (heard on the Norton CD Three Times Infinity and a split seven-inch with the Paybacks on Rex, both from last year) that suggests they'll still be rolling when the current garage revivalists are making children's records. P.W. LONG 10/10, THE NOTE P.W. Long is probably best remembered as the front man for Mule, the early-90s Detroit band that put some heavy lead into country music in its quest for the common ancestor linking the MC5 and Hank Williams. He made two under-the-radar albums with a project called P.W. Long's Reelfoot in the late 90s before taking some time off for all manner of odd jobs (music-video director in New Orleans, restaurant critic in New York); Shellac's invitation to play their edition of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival last year in England seems to have given him the itch to record again. The new Remembered (Touch and Go) is a grinding, wrenching sing-along, with thick, groaning chords set to the beat of the Johnny Cash death waltz. This comes straight from the dark-and-desolate school of Americana, yet the rich, complex bitterness of "It Just Don't Seem to Matter Now" reminds me most of the very English "Shoot Out the Lights." SPEEDEALER 10/11, THE NOTE This Texas band was called REO Speedealer before the cease-and-desist letter arrived. It was for the best--a band this powerful shouldn't have a joke for a name. Their new album Bleed (recorded in two days; out next month on Seattle's Dead Teenager Records, home of Zeke spin-off Camarosmith) seems to have crawled out of the primal ooze that festers in the ancient bootprints of Motorhead. BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE 10/13, EMPTY BOTTLE & Reckless on Milwaukee For a guy who seems like a natural cult leader, Anton Newcombe hasn't had much luck in keeping a band together. Still, every Brian Jonestown Massacre record is a monument to his aesthetic, of which narcissistic bullshit is a key ingredient. Love it or lump it (and I've certainly lumped it in the past), there's always something too compelling to turn your back on it completely. The new ...And This Is Our Music (Tee Pee/Committee to Keep Music Evil) emphasizes the BJM's hypnotic side--with its trancey piano lines, it sounds like a really creepy Windham Hill record. SIMPLY RED 10/13, HOUSE OF BLUES They had two U.S. number one singles in the 80s ("Holding Back the Years" and "If You Don't Know Me by Now"), but this British white-soul outfit--front man Mick Hucknall and whomever he's working with at the time--were huge in Europe well into the 90s. Hucknall played out his contract with Warner/Elektra in 1999; the new Home (on his own label, simplyred.com) is his first album since, and it's a very solid comeback. Besides the infectious originals, there's "Sunrise," which is nearly as catchy as the Hall & Oates song it's based on. But on a literal-minded rendition of "Positively 4th Street" (with horns playing the famous organ line) Hucknall's line readings are just flat enough to remind the listener that his Achilles' heel has always been a tendency toward glib Gibb-dom. AUTUMN RHYTHM 10/14, FIRESIDE BOWL This Boston act explores familiar but still rewarding territory on its debut, Secret Songs (Midriff). The sound is trippy, plaintive, and dreamy with an underlying tension: the bass plays its alternate melodies against Valerie Allen's translucent singing, and the guitar drones and chimes with china-doll delicacy--when it's not breaking into a little grassy-breeze jingle of its own. RANDY NEWMAN 10/16, PARK WEST Newman's 2002 Oscar win (not for his best work, but what--you'd rather it had gone to Paul McCartney?) was an important step in his official reclassification from "singer-songwriter" to "treasure." In this spirit, Nonesuch has begun its release of a three-disc Randy Newman Songbook series: no mere greatest-hits collection, it features Newman performing solo piano-and-vocals versions of his favorite originals. Volume One, out last week, was produced by Mitchell Froom, and it's nowhere near as ill-advised as you'd think: Newman's clumsy, distinctive voice brings an appealing drollness to what could otherwise read as his application for immortality, and genius pieces like "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)" and "Sail Away" sound as good in this fresh, bare-bones presentation as they ever did.

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

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