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Ten Benson
Benson Burner (Jetset)

Could someone please ex-plain why all the good, old-fashioned American rock (read: rawk) bands are coming from overseas these days? Some genius over in the U.K. must have realized that Americans have had their hands in the wrong musical cookie jars lately, and they’ve sent a veritable army of new bands to scold us. While the yanks have been trying to find new ways to make “Louie, Louie” sound current, the Brits have been hanging out in some tapestry-and-black-light-adorned bedroom, pawing through those old Aerosmith and AC/DC records—that’s where all the good riffs are, after all. Now that the Darkness have brought their pomp and flash to U.S. shores, it seems the coast is clear for the next wave of new-old-school rockers—the ones who take the really good drugs—and Ten Benson are the prime candidates to carry the torch.

Imagine a world where there are only two bands—Motorhead and the Butthole Surfers—and you’ll get a pretty good feel for what Benson Burner sounds like. Ten Benson are a bunch of trucker-cap- wearing British rednecks who specialize in hypnotizing, then bludgeoning, all comers. They’re all filth and disease; snarling monotone vocals (often double-tracked for a more robotic effect) over meaty, beaty guitar riffs, big and bouncy programmed beats, and cheesy keyboard flourishes (including a hilarious synth-banjo on “Nobody’s Wife”). Big Black meets “Big Bottom” on “Rock Cottage,” the soon-to-be Christmas classic “Black Snow” is a hell-on-earth fantasy, and the deliciously vulgar “Tits” is pure AC/DisCo, with an insistent sixteenth-note dance beat and fist-pumping chants that just happen to feature the names of various naughty bits. It quickly becomes clear that they’re completely aware of just how dumb this stuff is, and that’s why it works so well. Benson Burner is, very simply, a big, dumb, and extremely fun rock record.

—John Brodeur

Ryan Adams
Love Is Hell pt. 2 (Lost Highway)

“I’m a goofball. I’m always changing my mind,” Ryan Adams said recently. This goes a long way to explain the backstory to this release and its precursor, Love Is Hell pt. 1. Ryan Adams’ official album for 2003 was the spontaneous, hooky gutterpunk of Llor N Ckor. But he made that album only after scrapping a more contemplative effort he had spent way too much time on in New Orleans with Smiths and Roxy Music producer John Porter (who suited Adams’ Anglo, rainy-day intentions). Ultimately though, Adams decided that the gloomy, polished Love Is Hell wasn’t the statement he wanted to make after the sprawling, Stones-aping Gold, so he retreated to an Alphabet City basement with a producer who is Courtney Love’s boyfriend and guests like Green Day’s Billie Armstrong to make the more gleefully rocked-out, Technicolor Llor N Ckor. Meanwhile, Love Is Hell was served up in two parts, a sort of split Ryan Adams shadow-self to hover over his album proper, Llor N Ckor, and fuel the myth of the boy as prolific, damaged genius.

Both Love Is Hell albums are mediocre at best, with Part 2 coming up even spottier than its predecessor (which famously included a folky take on Oasis’ “Wonderwall”). Adams undersells his talent here with a bunch of navel-gazing numbers, most offensively the piano-twinkly lounge-hip pose of “My Blue Manhattan” and the plaintive finger-picked up-his-own-arseness of “I See Monsters.” “Hotel Chelsea Nights” is an ably bluesy mock-up of early ‘70s John Lennon, but its overt anxiety of influence is difficult to get past. But then, out of nowhere, rises the bittersweet acoustic-rocker “English Girls Approximately,” one of the best songs Adams has written since 2000’s brilliant Heartbreaker. (Try to ignore Marianne Faithfull’s murmured, pitch-problematical backup warbling, which is thankfully mixed way down.) Adams is a frustrating artist to follow, his uncanny and immense talent often getting lost among scattered intentions and influence-of-the-day enthusiasms.

—Erik Hage

Plastic Jesus
So You Say Rock n’ Roll’s a Sin (Self Released)

Plastic Jesus are a punk trio from historic Waterford via Long Island who need to stop what they’re doing and take this thing on the road, already. This stuff deserves to be heard. Man, right out of the box, too, their first full-length release. Songs like “Chuck Berry” and “Wolfman” represent a very intelligent usage of ’50s-style rock hooks, employing them within song structures that are at times representative of that era and others from the heyday of American punk. This is a very smart, star-spangled tribute to all of it. It’s like the Circle Jerks meet Eddie Cochran—the spirit behind it is exactly such a hybrid.

So You Say Rock n’ Roll’s a Sin offers no real high gloss, no evidence of gated, ones-and-zeroes polish, but that by no means implies that it doesn’t pass constitutional luster. Rather, the CD has a warm, vibrant, analog sound that is just so much more accurate and honest (nothing against digital). I can close my eyes and I’m back in my bedroom on McKown Road, smacking my head against the wall to another good piece of underground vinyl rather than popping another ho-hum disc in my PC. Which is as it should be.

—Bill Ketzer

Moby Grape
Legendary Grape (DIG Music)

Moby Grape’s first album in 1967 stands as one of the finest debuts by any band, ever. Unfortunately, on the commercial front it was all downhill from the moment Columbia pressed the record. They were ensnared by drugs, infighting and, especially, bad management. The effects of the latter remain such that the band, who re-form with sporadic regularity, can’t legally use their name. Hence, the billing on this disc says simply “Legendary Grape” (they’ve also performed as The Melvilles).

Originally released only on cassette in 1990 (and limited to a mere 500 copies!), the Legendary Grape CD now has eight songs added to the original 10. Of the original quintet, four of them were on board, with Skip Spence missing in action, though still alive at that time. However, the set does open with Spence’s “All My Life,” which unmistakably bears his marks, as he takes simple phrases and imbues them with giddy, if slightly off-kilter, exuberance. The rest of the set moves from the riff-driven “Give It Hell” to the bluesy swagger of “Took It All Away” and the finger-picked gusto of “On the Dime.” The entwined guitars still make the band sound unmistakably like themselves, with the contrasting voices of Bob Mosley, Jerry Miller and Peter Lewis here at full power. While there are some dated ’80s production sounds (particularly on the drums), the sheer force of the band transcends.

—David Greenberger


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