AUTOMATON
Clarions and Banners
(PacifiCo)
****
Local act Automaton fits into that amorphous space between post-punk and emotionally damaged indie rock. Using sound samples, instrumental effects, and vocals wrung through the bittersweet ringer, the three-piece manages to create an excellent second album. Clarions and Banners landscapes noisy melodies that singer Pat Kearney gouges with spikes like, "You set fire/to the tank in the garage/where all the yard tools are kept/with a smile on your face/while you fuck everybody." The band (which includes former Stranger reporter Kearney and current staffer James van Leuven) invokes, at times, Modest Mouse, Trail of Dead, and Sonic Youth, showing you can keep your spine intact and still write tortured rock songs that leak bile and beauty in the same bass line. With images of isolation-chamber therapy sessions and technocrat anxieties, Clarions and Banners is the apocalyptic soundtrack to a melodious 21st-century social meltdown. JENNIFER MAERZ

THE WONTONS
Hex Appeal
(Bloody Banner Records)
***
Imagine that it's 1983 and you're driving around in your stepfather's convertible in the Hollywood Hills, looking for a pool party where the Circle Jerks are rumored to be playing, and the Santa Ana winds and the punk rock on the radio whip you into such a frenzy that you drive off a cliff. Or let's pretend that you've just slept with a guy in Suicidal Tendencies and while he's passed out (or maybe dead) on the floor, you browse through his vinyl and steal the stuff you like the best. Listening to this feisty Austin trio wink to their idols while still kicking fresh new ass feels like putting a big bottle of L.A. Looks gel in your hair, slipping on your best checkered Vans, and ordering sushi and not paying for it. TAMARA PARIS

MC5
Human Being Lawnmower-- The Baddest and Maddest of the MC5
(Total Energy)
***
Shit. What can I say? Like, this is the fuckin' MC5. You know, sped-up Berry riffs underpinnin' dueling guitars, mixed with dense biff-bang-POW free-jazz-o-fonics and some rama lama fa fa fa over Afro-heatin' preachin' courtesy of Mister Rob Tyner. Did I already holler fa fa fa and rama lama? Anyway, this collection is an affectionate, alternative "best of" comprising outtakes and live tracks. The live tracks are taken from early-'90s Total Energy MC5 collections, and the outtakes... um, some sounded a bit Babes in Arms familiar.... However, the instrumental version of "Looking at You" makes this a keeper! BUT... do we need another "best of MC5"? Hell yes! If our sorry asses can stand approximately 700 "live" Johnny Thunders records, then another MC5 collection ain't gonna hurt no damn body! MIKE NIPPER

ALPHA & OMEGA
Serious Joke
(A&O records)
***
Despite considerable effort, I can't find better contemporary dub than that produced by Alpha & Omega. The band is based in London, comprising two members--Christine Woodbridge on bass, John Sprosen on drums--and has been around for over a decade. Their masterpiece is Mystical Things (2000), and their latest is Serious Joke, which lives up to its name. Some songs are serious, like "One Love" (which is a Rasta prayer); others are more humorous, like "The Dub Is out There" (which samples and echoes the silly theme from The X-Files). What all the songs have in common, however, is heavy bass lines, thick drum rhythms, and dense, fuguelike arrangements of melodic echoes. Like most of Alpha & Omega's CDs, Serious Joke is not easy to find. The best place to look for (or order) it is at Zion's Gate, which is near the corner of 10th and E. Pike. CHARLES MUDEDE

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