BOBBY BIRDMAN

Born Free Forever

(Hush)

****

I've never spent a summer in the warm California sun, speeding through the scenic highways of the Southwest. But I have it on good faith that it feels a little like the subtle embrace of Bobby Birdman's musical baptism.

With an enveloping vocal timbre that croons, swells, and encapsulates, troubadour Rob Kieswetter's latest is a steaming mineral bath of swathing vocal arrangements, acoustic guitar, and electronics--a navel-gazing opus that throbs and pulses from its opening tones to its quiet finale. Kieswetter's records leak a watery ambiance, a washy, ear-clogged distortion of tone that sees its full realization on the stunning selections of Born Free Forever, his new full-length. It's a sleepy set, beautiful and atmospheric in a way that I imagine would lend itself to fairly mundane background music in the wrong hands. But it's a headphone album to be sure--one that you have to bathe in to really appreciate. Given time, however, the finer moments of the swimming Born Free Forever cause me to forget to breathe--a record that is at times literally breathtaking. ZAC PENNINGTON

FM KNIVES

Useless and Modern

(Broken Rekids)

***1/2

As sick of hearing it as they surely must be, Sacramento's FM Knives sound enough like the Buzzcocks that to not mention it would be downright negligent (those who like to pretend that the more apt comparison is with the Kids, the Undertones, the Boys, etc., are just silly). Vocalist Jason Patrone shares the same pubescent whine as Pete Shelley, and the rest of the lads churn out the hook-filled punk here as effortlessly as anything this side of Singles Going Steady. Despite all the youthful exuberance on display, FM Knives are hardly kids. They're thirtysomething veterans of outfits like Groovie Ghoulies, Pretty Girls, Los Huevos, and others who've mastered a formula and stick to it--much unlike the Buzzcocks, who, within two years of their initial flurry of greatness, were already serving up cranky prune juice cocktails like the seven-minute "I Believe" ("There is no love in this world anymore...." Wah!!). FM Knives don't play dumb, though, and they certainly don't pander; fittingly, Patrone sings about characters "31 going on 42" who're "all washed up cuz I ain't knocked up." Yeah, you might've heard it before, but maybe not this good. Useless and quite fabulous. PAUL FONTANA

VUE

Babies Are for Petting (EP)

(RCA)

***

When 2001's Find Your Home (Sub Pop) hit, Vue were San Francisco's sexiest band. They sounded like a garage band with midnight sex appeal, with frontman Rex Shelverton delivering a heavy-lidded bedroom vibe that slunk around the room before burning a hole straight through you. There was something carefully manipulative about their songs, accented by Jessica Graves' cinematic keyboards and the butterfly kiss of a harmonica melody.

With their move to a major label, Vue have scrubbed off most of the moody dirt that made them so sexy in the first place. On first listen, the record is too clean, like everything's been tucked into place where it used to sound so perfectly disheveled. But the more you let these five songs sink in (including a revision of "Find Your Home" and the fabulous "It Won't Last"), the more the band sounds as if it's simply growing into new territory. Before they hit us with a new full-length, Vue flirt with a heavily atmospheric attitude, still all hips and heart over head, but geared up to scrap with big boys like the Walkmen, B.R.M.C., or the Strokes--with the soulful reaches of their sex appeal on their side. JENNIFER MAERZ

GRAVY TRAIN!!!!

Hello Doctor

(Kill Rock Stars)

***

With all the erudite subtlety of Too Short's finer moments, San Francisco four-piece Gravy Train!!!! combine Raw Like Sushi beats, covered-and-smothered J. J. Fad-gone-venereal rhymes, and impossibly off-key diva vocals in a wince-inducing, queer-centric stew of sex, fast food, sex, and more sex. The follow-up to 2001's epic four-song The Menz EP, Gravy Train!!!! return with Hello Doctor, their debut full-length on Kill Rock Stars--and, well, it's just filthy. Not in that alluring, female empowerment, electro kinda of way either--in a repugnant, neighbors-making-amateur-porn, Miami booty bass way--and despite a few hiccups throughout, the package is nearly flawless. Two Menz songs hold over ("You Made Me Gay" and "Hella Nervous"), fleshed out with eight additional titty-bouncing, burger-fucking spurts that, once your blushing cheeks regain their natural hue, are pretty difficult to resist. Don't get me wrong--Hello Doctor is nothing if not a novelty record, but I'll be damned if it isn't an addictive one. ZAC PENNINGTON

**** Jimmy *** crack ** corn * and I don't care

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