MC5

The Big Bang! The Best of the MC5

(Rhino)****

What a relief that there's currently a surplus of skinny, weird-looking, messy-haired, leather-clad white guys who make you want to never wear panties again! Well, these boys are the originals, and no musician yet has made a political statement quite like the 'fro on Rob "you can be a part of the problem, or you can be a part of the solution" Tyner.

There's no point laundry-listing the 21 tracks on this compilation -- it's all there. Besides, this is the kind of record that's so overwhelming you have to take it approximately one song at a time (at the moment I'm in a "Sister Anne"/"Miss X" phase). The middle of the album is weak, unless you go for their Chuck Berry routine. But the majority of it is live, and as my MC5 aficionado pal said, "I never knew there was a really good live version of 'Kick out the Jams!'"

The extensive, Please Kill Me-style liner notes make you want to move to Detroit. Guitarist Wayne Kramer, for one, seems pleased with the 5's longevity, writing, "the message may finally reach the masses." Hopefully he's right, though it's more likely to happen through native sons the Go, who, unlike the 5, had the benefit of the feminist movement in their corner. Where the 5 are all "under-my-thumb-I'm-gonna-put-you-down," the Go beg women to stop making them run all over town because, "like geez babe, you're making me look stupid in front of my friends!"

If nothing else, buy The Big Bang! because it contains one of the best rock lines in history: "Kick out the jams motherfuckers!" (Which is second only, of course, to "Rama lama fa fa fa.") TANYA RICHARDSON

THE KINGSBURY MANX

The Kingsbury Manx

(Overcoat)****

One's first impression of The Kingsbury Manx and their self-titled debut album is likely to be a visceral one. If you hail from the South (as I do), the music is apt to evoke visions of moss hanging from the trees, kudzu snaking up the side of a barn, fireflies in a twilight meadow, leaves scattered on an autumn breeze, or syrup sliding down the sides of a short stack of pancakes. While these images may not necessarily be inherently Southern, neither are the sounds on this auspicious debut. But the moods evoked here are hauntingly beautiful and mysterious, with the subtlety and warmth of the best of Faulkner.

The sustained Farfisa chord which kicks off "Pageant Square" is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" or Prince's "Purple Rain"; and while these lads from Chapel Hill continue to weave various influences throughout, they manage to maintain a sense of integrity and self-assuredness that is all too rare. Vocal harmonies abound on tracks like "Piss Diary" and "Hawaii in Ten Seconds," with nods in the direction of Simon and Garfunkel, or the best of the Beach Boys. Lyrics unfold with the quirky front-porch minimalism of the Silver Jews, while melodies ebb and flow like the spaced-out psychedelia of early Stone Roses and their Manchester brethren. "Cross Your Eyes" skips along with a blues-funky wa-wa reminiscent of George Harrison, and "How Cruel" twangs with steel guitar and raspy crooning à la Elliott Smith.

However, one must be wary. A long list of comparisons and apparent influences would prove futile and may distract from one basic truth: The Kingsbury Manx have produced an achingly beautiful record that is all their own. An auspicious debut, indeed. Perhaps the first best record of 2000. MARTIN HALL

DIRTY THREE

Whatever You Love, You Are

(Touch & Go)****

The magic lies in the silences.

Warren Ellis is an extraordinary violinist, sure. When he's on stage with someone like Nick Cave, he plays like a possessed demon -- back to the crowd, stamping his foot, hair flailing in the wind, great arcs of phlegm bubbling out from his lips. The way he draws his bow across the strings can be truly terrifying, the emotion he wrings from it equally so. Here is a man who has truly suffered, you feel, that he can play so exquisitely and yearningly. And it appears that he has, whether the suffering was self-inflicted or not.

On the odd occasion that he bothers to introduce a Dirty Three song live -- like on the classic "Everything's Fucked" -- it's to explain how once more everything has turned to shit in his hands. Listen to his violin wailing its melancholy on "I Really Should've Gone out Last Night," or tuning up gently to itself at the start of the epic "I Offered It up to the Stars and Night Sky," and you'll understand what I'm talking about, I'm sure.

Yet the magic of Dirty Three lies in their silences.

Listen closer. Listen to Jim White's subtle, fluid drumming behind the odd, harsh yowl of violin. Listen to cover-painter, ex-Moodist Mick Turner's intricate, carefully chosen guitar notes. This isn't a one man show -- far from it. Indeed, the Dirty Three is more Turner's band than Ellis' (check Mick Turner's excellent last solo record for proof). It's the spaces in between the wild bursts of emotion, the gentle come-downs and taps on the snare, which create and carry the moods; it's the way Turner will occasionally allow his guitar to flutter and burst forth. Here are men who fully understand the power of the chilled chord, the dulled drum-sound -- who know that in this life of confusion where images come thick and fast at you from every direction, it's the sorting switch that counts.

What you leave out. EVERETT TRUE

CROOKED FINGERS

Crooked Fingers

(Warm)****

Eric Bachmann first appeared on the scene in Chapel Hill, NC as a guitarist for a band called Small. Soon he was writing so many songs that he decided to start his own band, which he dubbed Archers of Loaf.

The rest, as they say, is indie-rock history. The Archers were heaped with critical acclaim nationwide, and even enjoyed some commercial success. None other than Madonna found her way backstage at one of the band's early New York City shows. Alas, the Archers of Loaf saga came to an end a little over a year ago, much to the dismay of many a fan across the country; perhaps even to the Material Girl herself.

Crooked Fingers should provide some solace for those in dismay. This is Eric Bachmann, post-Archers. But fans of the high octane anthems of days gone by may be a bit surprised.

Crooked Fingers is a dark, lyrically driven album which still somehow shimmers with beauty despite very little affirmation. The obvious comparison would be to Tom Waits, both stylistically and thematically. Bachmann trades in his Archers-era wail for a crackling croon, augmented by his subtle guitar work and hints of crystalline cello, violin, and vibes. The songs are character studies; the "heroes" are the downtrodden: the belligerent drunks and beautiful losers that Waits has chronicled so aptly. With Crooked Fingers, Bachmann proves himself to be a viable successor to the minstrel of melancholy.

"New Drink for the Old Drunk" is perhaps the most uptempo song on the album, telling the story of a pitiful drunk in a corner who is the subject of ridicule and abuse, but too far gone to notice or care. "Black Black Ocean" is a fractured sea shanty that harks back to the Pogues on their darkest day. "A Little Bleeding," while no less bleak than its predecessors, closes the album with a chorus of harmonies that echo with hope and beauty, if not optimism.

With Crooked Fingers, Eric Bachmann has proven himself to be a formidable songwriter beyond the buoyancy of standard indie-rock fare. He has created an astonishing album that establishes his as a voice to be reckoned with -- yet again. Perhaps it is true after all that with age and experience, even indie rockers earn their cynicism. MARTIN HALL

WILL OLDHAM

Ode Music

(Drag City)**

Will Oldham's various incarnations -- Palace (Brothers/Songs)/Bonnie "Prince" Billie/Will Oldham -- have produced some of the most moving post-country (Oldham considers it "folk-pop") on record. There Is No One What Will Take Care of You, the 1993 debut, stands as one of the secretly revolutionary landmarks of what is called, for lack of a better word, rock. The first Palace singles compilation, 1996's Lost Blues and Other Songs, is a long journey through the songwriter's many modes, from Cormac McCarthy-flavored Appalachian incest tales to Grateful Dead-influenced (but not in a bad way, if you can believe it) trustafarian jams exploring the sad undercurrents of the good life. These records are enough to make any countrified, literary, aging punk swear lifelong fealty to the Palace tribe, and Ode Music is strictly for the confirmed worshippers: five gorgeous pieces on acoustic guitar. This CD is meditative listening, but offers nothing new. More demanding adherents should wait for the release this spring of Lost Blues II, which will collect the stray bits of brilliance Oldham has been releasing on import-only singles and obscure EPs. One or two of Ode Music's pieces would find a good home on such a compilation; Oldham's idiosyncrasies can seem random and confusing taken one-by-one. Live, or as a part of an ensemble like the earlier compilation, they find their place in Oldham's devastating worldview and shine like diamonds. Save your money and wait for Lost Blues II. GRANT COGSWELL

THE PACIFIC OCEAN

Less than the Needle, More than the Shotgun

(Enchante)*

This band sounds like the Breeders. The Breeders are very nice, and in this post-everything culture where some bands pretend it's 1979 while others prefer 1973 with a little 1988, and while a very popular formula is 1965 by way of 1981, there will be a time and a place where it will be fun to sound like 1992. But not here, not now. If you want to bring your complaints to the band members themselves, their apartment number on St. Marks Place is on the CD jacket. This record isn't bad enough to wake anyone up in the middle of the night over; it's just been done so, so many times. The only benefit I can see to living on St. Marks Place in the year 2000 is its proximity to the big Gap store on Second Avenue. Our Ocean is a vengeful god; he doesn't take well to having His name slapped on a piece of work this derivative and thin. Be warned. GRANT COGSWELL


IN STORES 3/7

BLACK ROB, Life Story (Arista) Black Rob must have some connections, because he's got both Puffy and Jennifer Lopez guesting on this album.

THE DWARVES, Come Clean (Epitaph) He Who Cannot Be Named cannot be washed.

FIREBALLS OF FREEDOM, Total Fuckin' Blowout (Estrus) A lot of thought went into that title, obviously.

GIANT SAND, Chore of Enchantment (Thrill Jockey) You love them or you hate them -- depending on how you feel about hippies and intellectuals in the same audience.

THE GIMMICKS, Honeymoon's Over (Estrus) The first full-length from Seattle's treble-charged garage punks.

M2M, Shades of Purple (Atlantic) Two Norwegians named Marion and Marit whose favorite albums of 1999 include Sixpence None the Richer, Surfacing, and My Love Is Your Love.

'N SYNC, No Strings Attached (Jive) Like, we're not puppets, okay? OKAY?

PAPAS FRITAS, Buildings and Grounds (Minty Fresh) Cute pop doesn't get more sophisticated than on this Boston-based band's third album.

MARY TIMONY, Mountains (Matador) Former Helium singer releases album to promote her Priceline.com commercial appearance as part of William Shatner's backup band.

TREMBLING BLUE STARS, Broken by Whispers (Sub Pop) Bob Wratten of Field Mice has been releasing love songs in Britain as Trembling Blue Stars since 1996.

VIOLENT FEMMES, Freak Magnet (Beyond) Ever the voice of itchy adolescence, Violent Femmes frontman Gordon Gano returns with 15 new tunes of anger and confusion.


IN STORES NOW

MARK BRYAN, 30 on the Rail (Atlantic) A Hootie side-project. Don't let's start.

CHOCLAIR, Ice Cold (Priority) How do you win respect in hiphop when you're Canadian?

CRACKER, Garage D'Or (Virgin) Cracker is going for the green by repackaging their two hit singles with a bunch of new or previously unreleased ephemera, and hoping that there are enough Camper Van Beethoven fans left to buy anything David Lowery does.

EELS, Daisies of the Galaxy (DreamWorks) Peter Buck and ex-Grant Lee Buffalo singer Grant Lee Phillips guest on this album. But will it contain another "Novocaine for the Soul"? Another what?

POISON, Crack a Smile (Capitol) Finally, the lost Poison album will see the light of day. Not only do we get the original 1994 album, but the CD is stacked with rarities, such as an MTV Unplugged version of "Every Rose Has It's Thorn." Now Bret Michaels can join the long list of musicians who owe VH1 a big smoochy kiss for reviving interest in their brief careers.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Big League Rocks (Capitol) Baseball players writing and singing songs? Bernie Williams, the World Champion N.Y. Yankees' center fielder and cleanup hitter, is known to relax in the clubhouse by picking out tunes on an acoustic guitar, so his contributions should be notable. But count on any tunes from Red Sox players to sound like choking, which is what the team does every time they get near the post-season.