"I hate porn," Halo of Kitten's Julia Cafritz declares at the outset of Screwed, a soundtrack advancing a forthcoming film bio of sex-trade kingpin Al Goldstein. Despite her blunt statement, Cafritz isn't launching a feminist missive or a buttoned-up crusade against graphic sex acts -- as a founding member of Pussy Galore, she's no stranger to smut. She hates porn, she sings, because it's a less-than-imaginative method of sensual gratification: "Busty blonde with a pimple on her ass/ Make that cum shot last!" she groans. "What a bore."
Plenty of other musicians on "Screwed" share Cafritz's detached view of pornography, that is, the pathetic flesh fantasies of vehicles like Goldstein's Screw magazine. The Melvins submit "I Like Porn," a comically bluesy, soft-shoe response to the opening track featuring Buzz Osborne's ironic deadpan: "I like porn," he mumbles, barely staying awake. "It gets me hot." The Strapping Fieldhands use a clowning sax-and-accordion combo to emphasize the carnival atmosphere of Goldstein's industry. (And the movie would appear to bear that image out, depicting, among other characters, a dwarf in an Uncle Sam suit. FYI: Screwed was made by the same filmmaking team responsible for that PMRC bake-sale favorite Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies.)
Though it's short (32 minutes), Screwed provides enough moments of indie-rock indulgence to merit a spin or two. Mudhoney's "Goat Cheese," for instance, is one of the group's catchier efforts, with Mark Arm offering such bucolic observations as "nothing smells sweeter than a goat in the yard." But Boss Hog's "Black Throat" is a misguided piece of trash-trolling, and the collection veers into irredeemable territory with cuts by Big Chief (who grind their way through the naughty-cheerleaders tune "Ludest Nudist") and Black Light Rainbow, whose wish list is short: "Fuck Forever," they bark, apparently seriously. If Screwed has the final word, the porn industry will outlast Ralph Reed's crusading minions, not because of sin's durability, but because deviant sex is an endless source of comedy.
-- James Sullivan
Weaned on Merle Haggard and Midwest radio, I've always found something missing from Bay Area country music. Starting with Dieselhed and rippling through S.F. Seals and Tarnation, my unsubstantiated hunch is that many artists play country as an excuse to vicariously drown their sorrows, hit the highways, or let their women run off, all in the name of penning a catchy song that features pedal steel guitar. Keeping that in mind, the Boston-born/Frisco-bred Buckets fall unfortunately short of the well water on their self-titled debut, despite their always solid live shows.
Take "Gone to Meet You," a song about a chicken-feeding farmer headed for a rendezvous with his ex of eight years. In the chorus, lead Bucketeer Earl Butter sings, "I don't know the reasons why/ Will I laugh or will I cry?/ Will I look you in the eye?/ It took eight years but I feel like I could try." Wanda Taters adds a knee-slappin' fiddle solo, Kid Coyote a twangy gee-tar hook, then the band ends it with a neat ragtime flourish. Perfectly palatable, it sounds like it took all of 10 minutes to write.
Most of The Buckets is likewise two-dimensional: "Coffee and Beer" profiles the waitresses the group meets on the road; "Mistake #1" is a whiskey-drencher that warbles in search of a melody; and "I'm Drunk" rhymes "sorrow" with -- surprise -- "tomorrow." Titular touchstones ("Highway," "Cowgirl," "Beer Belly") say much for the Buckets' overall themes: a smattering of cowboy clichs and shtickery, best delivered to city audiences drinking microbrews.
For me, though, country ain't a shtick but an important, age-old American musical form, one which artists like Son Volt, Rosie Flores, and Blue Mountain are pushing to new levels of expression, much of it painful and self-deprecating, all of it honest. The Buckets' overkill country sounds calculated, and wears stiff as a new pair of boots.
The Buckets play a record release party Fri, Feb. 2, at the Bottom of the Hill in S.F.; call 626-4455.
-- Colin Berry
In one of hip hop's most exciting directions, visionary beatheads like DJ Shadow and DJ Krush are blending and blurring breakbeats into creepy, minimalist soundscapes like nothing you've heard before. One of the founders of New York's groundbreaking Giant Step club and the main force behind the trippy Fat Jazzy Grooves series, DJ Smash has been fiddling innovatively with breakbeats for years. He's earned a rep as a dope producer for always delving deep into the bins of black music, one of the first to blend jazz licks with hip-hop breaks and Afro-Cuban rhythms. His ability to find disparate elements and fit them together like pieces of a puzzle makes him more of a conductor/composer than a mere DJ, although his Technics skills are there to save the day whenever his material threatens to get too esoteric.
Party Platter is more up-tempo than his previous New Breed releases (often filed, somewhat incorrectly, under trip hop), but it's hard to complain about music that so easily snakes through the booty to the brain. Aptly titled, it moves seamlessly from the Latin-flavored strains of "Bossanova" and the nearly jungle-esque "Jumpin' Ritmo" to the hardcore boplicity of "Gimme Some," "Gettin' Dizzy," and "Lounge Mode." Mixing beats for the dance floor this time, Smash stays true to his motto, "It's time to get down."
-- Eric K. Arnold
Pack Small Are Half Inch
As we know from his loud and noisy local trio the Molecules, Ron Anderson is punk to the core. Yet his unique (he calls it "expressionistic") approach toward studio craftsmanship on his solo debut, Pack Small Are Half Inch, finds him on the other side of the street of the average Gilman rocker. Anderson lays his already-recorded tunes on the chopping block and hacks away, then pastes the salvaged phrases beside, inside, and on top of one another. This aggressive engineering warps tempos and strangles riffs, but the din is propelled forward by multijointed rhythms and a supercharged vision.
Realizing that the sounds of a live band are inevitably altered through the actual recording process, Anderson sets out to further exploit and degrade these changes ("[I] reserve the right to sound like shit," he writes in the liner notes.) Not quite fecal matter, though presumably just as unpalatable for the fair of ear, Anderson's 19 "compositions" are as loud and crazed as his clamorous soundtracks with the Molecules, but his production wizardry and collaborations with the local improv/jazz scene's most savage players (including Gino Robair, Dan Plonsey, 99 Hooker, and William Winant) give the project a roguish elegance lacking on Molecules records. The whimsical zaniness throughout echoes Japanese noisemongers Boredoms or Ruins, while the off-kilter but catchy grooves on tunes like "Static Picnic Time" recall the Minutemen or Victim's Family in -- would you believe? -- overdrive.
A continuous 35 minutes of sculptured cacophony, Pack Small is a salute to the brash and obnoxious. In other words, punk -- minus the bar chord fixation.
Ron Anderson plays a record release party Tues, Feb. 6, at the Hotel Utah in S.F.; call 421-8308.
-- Sam Prestianni
San Francisco's Mommyheads take tried-and-true musical building blocks and stack them into an original shape: quirky, harmonic pop that avoids the cloying and precious. On Bingham's Hole, their latest disc, the songwriting is stronger than ever, characterized by herky-jerky syncopations, a real appreciation for dynamics, and chord progressions that willingly flirt with tradition but are more inclined to traipse into less familiar territory. The instrumentation is first-rate, with involved bass lines, cool keyboard voices, understated guitar, and skillful drumming. As for their lyrics, vocalist/songwriter Adam Cohen can sing, "I try to respect your space/ I keep it in my pants/ If you don't want me hanging around" on "Fast Enough for You" without sounding boorish, stupid, or klutzy. "Needmore, Pennsylvania" draws the listener in with sneakily seductive guitar noodling, then finishes off with a splendid blast of noise. If "Broken and Glazed" is just too "white boy funky," "Tension" wins the prize for best lyrics: "Tension makes the flowers grow/ They have to push themselves from the ground/ When you pick flowers you should know/ Tension makes the world go round." That said, the Mommyheads walk a thin blue line: If they ever lose the edgy, offbeat humor and brains that currently inform their music, they'd be just another eccentric soft-pop band, a low-key They Might Be Giants. But Bingham's Hole shows no signs of degeneration.
The Mommyheads play a Hairy Records showcase Sat, Feb. 3, at the Kilowatt in S.F.; call 861-2595.
-- Josh Wilson