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Nice to Know You

Candy Butchers
Hang On Mike (RPM)

Although ostensibly a “band,” Candy Butchers essentially is the nom-de-rock of Mike Viola. Viola, who anonymously gave voice to the singer of the fictional Wonders in the film That Thing You Do, has been toiling away in near- anonymity with his own music for quite some time, and while none of his own material quite hits the giddy British Invasion high-water mark of that film’s songs, he often dead-on nails the manic energy and frustration of the second British Invasion’s finest (Elvis Costello, Squeeze). The Butchers’ first two records for Sony (Falling Into Place, Play With Your Head) were heavily produced, syrupy efforts, mashed into sonic oatmeal by big-label production, but on the new Hang On Mike, there is a marked return to the live-band sound of their nearly-impossible-to-find debut LP (you may be able to find it available for download online, listed as the “Blue Thumb” album), with gurgling synthesizers and the occasional string-quartet accompaniment thrown in to mix things up a bit.

Mike Viola is an expert imitator. This is a guy who once wrote a song that sounded exactly like a tampon commercial (“I’m Not Over You”) solely because he wanted to write a song that sounded like—you guessed it—a tampon commercial. That, of course, is why he also fit so well into the vocal role of a fake ’60s pop singer. With this latest album, he’s gone whole hog with the sonic impersonations, at times perfectly mimicking the sound and musical tone of McCartney’s Ram (minus the self-indulgence of “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”). Bassist Pete Donnelly (Figgs) again plays the role of the “other” Candy Butcher, handling many of the sweet harmonies and backups. To further flesh things out, Mike Gent (Figgs/Gentlemen) was drafted to drop some tasty lead guitar licks, along with drummer Mike Benigno and ex-Gravel Pit frontman Jedediah Parish, who played whatever keyboards Viola didn’t already have his hands all over. The music is mostly fun and upbeat, with the occasional hard left thrown in to shake things up. “Kiss Alive II” is chock-full of lyrical and musical references to “Bennie and the Jets,” with a drum intro stolen from “Rock and Roll All Nite,” while “What to Do With Michael” and “Let’s Have a Baby” sound like lost Ben Folds Five or Fountains of Wayne hits, and the lead single, “Nice to Know You,” is perfect ’70s AM radio pop.

A perusal of the lyric sheet paints a different picture than the music alone would suggest. As it turns out, Hang On Mike is an extremely personal album—so personal, in fact, that it was nearly delivered to his label as a Viola solo album, rather than a Candy Butchers product. You could almost call it Viola’s midlife-crisis album. His examinations of mortality, both literal and figurative (“Painkillers,” “Superkid”), and depression (“Unexpected Traffic”) are almost jarring when paired with their bright, shiny musical counterparts, but that’s Viola’s strong suit. As he reassures himself on the title track, amid a soundtrack that bounces like a modern-day “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “Hang on Mike, if there’s one thing you’re good for it’s another song.”

—John Brodeur

Probot
Probot (Southern Lord)

Foo Fighter Dave Grohl tips his hat to the goat lord and high science with Probot, expressing his amative feelings for ’80s metal with this stunning meat-and-potato pound cake. The guy is as diverse as the devil is crafty. In between stints with the Foos and Sky Valley’s Queens of the Stone Age, Grohl was hard at work penning immaculately groomed metal, upper lip appropriately bloody, perfectly genteel in a fight-your-dad-for-the-last-Meister-Bräu kind of way. Then, he phoned up his heroes from favorite metal and crossover bands from days of yore, who obliged his teen fantasy and penned lyrics to each of the tunes. The result is an astounding tribute to those who toiled in the trenches of Reagan-era optimism and who give a damn what Frankie Says.

The disc blasts off in fine form with “Centuries of Sin,” courtesy Cronos from the legendary Venom, a bruising, excoriating bit of thrash that really sets the tone for the rest of this unholy war. Maybe I’m just waxing nostalgic here, but I’m surely not the only sod who missed hearing the classic Cronos “Wooooooaaaaaaaarrrrgggghhhh” in my ears daily, having sent my parents to social workers and various clergymen all those years ago to determine the cause of my condition (they failed). To be sure, many of the tracks have been penned with each vocalist in mind. Voivod oddball Snake handily tackles “Dictatosaurus,” where the pneumatic, machinelike riffage sounds akin to any of the techno-dirge penned by the Canadian sci-fi rockers, save a classic Grohl chorus. The glorious “Shake Your Blood” sees eternal idol Lemmy Kilmister at the helm, his fuzzy Rickenbacker handily trouncing out the runs of what could easily be Motörhead classic, and Mike Dean’s “Access Babylon” could have been a b-side from Corrosion of Conformity’s Animosity years. Other standouts are Wino’s (Hidden Hand, St. Vitus) “The Emerald Law” and D.R.I frontman Kurt Brecht’s “Silent Spring,” but it’s all too, too good. There’s also a piquant, apocalyptic Jack Black bonus track, with producer-writer-weirdo Liam Lynch chiming in for good measure, and hey, the low price point ($12.99) just seals the deal.

Grohl understands the all-too- underestimated value of bulletproof production, and his usual best efforts again prove exemplary here. Cracking drums, fat bass and downright contumacious axework (most of which is delivered by the writer himself, with appearances by Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil and others) appear to make each guest star work that much harder, in some instances breathing new life into characters who have been sidelined for a good long while. You almost wish that you could get an album’s worth from each guy in this same format. Let’s hope the former Nirvana thumper wins a PentaGrammy for this one. Oh, never mind.

—Bill Ketzer

Chicago Underground Trio
Slon (Thrill Jockey)

they Originally were known as the Chicago Underground Duo, and their half-dozen releases since 1997 have found them growing and contracting. Founding members Rob Mazurek (cornet and computer) and Chad Taylor (drums), along with Noel Kupersmith (bass and computer) are by turns funky and propulsive (“Shoe Lace”), mysterious and ethereal (“Kite”) and everything in between. On a piece like “Palermo” they sound like descendants of Eno, given extra heft with a foundation of solid drumming. They draw equally from ’60s free-jazz models and electronics. The latter element evokes contemporary sonics as well as such earlier experimenters as Morton Subotnick. With Slon, CUT are to be commended for shaping a true album experience. It’s varied, flowing and full of surprises. Their acoustic and electric instruments blend with seamless organic logic, as bursts of a human-lung-fueled horn spring out of the undulating rhythms and textures beneath.

—David Greenberger


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