GRAEME DOWNES
Hammers and Anvils
(Matador Records)
**1/2

"There's nothing invented/That measures the depth of the night," Graeme Downes sings in a strained tenor with spare electric guitar accompaniment on the title song of Hammers and Anvils. It's a strong opening to a powerful but somewhat uneven album. As the singer and guitarist for seminal New Zealand band the Verlaines, Graeme Downes cut a swath of influence that reached far beyond the isolation of his homeland. His genre-hopping and blending kept the Verlaines just left of the radar, but also kept the band vital and wily over seven releases. Hammers and Anvils shows that his artistic wanderlust hasn't been quelled by time. The album alternates rockers with jazz-tinged numbers that strain against the disquieting lyrics and emotive vocals. "Shoreland" and "Song for a Hollywood Road Movie" find the balance that works best, with a moody stripped-down sound baring Downes' melancholic voice and heart. NATE LIPPENS

CLAN OF XYMOX
Notes From The Underground

(Metropolis)
***1/2

Ever since these Amsterdam goth-rockers released Medusa on the legendary 4AD label, fans have been waiting for the band's return to the brooding, ethereal sound that made the 1987 album a classic. Instead, frontman Ronnie Moorings shortened the group's name to simply "Xymox" and embarked on a misguided synth-pop diversion that led to three lukewarm dance albums. But Moorings shows the fruit of this seemingly distracted labor on the 12-song opus, Notes From the Underground. Instead of retreating to the safety of the group's halcyon days, Moorings and friends use the band's variegated past to create a complex and diverse album. The darkwave anthem "Number One" evokes the sinister sound of Sisters Of Mercy, but carves out its own propulsive mystery. And the melancholy pop of "At Your Mercy" sounds like it could be at home on Medusa. More impressively, Clan of Xymox seamlessly incorporates its 1990s techno dalliances on "The Bitter Sweet" and "The Same Dream." None of this sounds new, but at least the Clan has reclaimed its past by deftly avoiding nostalgia. DAVID SLATTON

TOILET BOYS
Toilet Boys

(Masterplan Entertainment)
***

In 2001, metal is a very serious undertaking. Pink-lipsticked boys are out, and the noodler with furrowed brow is in. What-fucking-ever. What about those of us who enjoy getting shitfaced on rock and roll and want nothing but a good time? New York's Toilet Boys are a punk-pop metal mash, all about living for the weekend, with songs like "Party Starts Now," "Saturday Nite," "Good Times Roll," and "Rock 'n' Roll Whore." Fronted by a punk trannie named Guy, the Boys invoke a mix of Kiss, the Black Halos, and the Crüe, taking their tongues out of their cheeks long enough to run them down a mic stand. And they have guitar solos. The Toilet Boys aren't going to spin rock and roll on its head, but at least they pull that stick from its ass and get it drunk on something cheap and dirty. JENNIFER MAERZ

DAVID S. WARE QUARTET
Corridors & Parallels

(Aum Fidelity)
****

If Ornette Coleman's catchword is "love," then David S. Ware's is "bliss." The DSWQ show last month left me in bliss. Afterward, light-headed and overwhelmed, I met David. I was greeted by the far-off look in his eye. His persona has an otherworldly, spaced-out attitude about it--weary and aloof, but snapping into focus when the right question comes along. This album, Corridors & Parallels, is something of a new chapter for the quartet. I say "something" because the real turn was his last album, Surrendered, on which the tunes became much more compositionally aware than they were on kinetic masterpieces Flight of I and Go See the World. But Corridors & Parallels marks a formal change, as Matthew Shipp, usually appearing on piano, plays the synthesizer. I asked Ware why the synth didn't appear onstage at the show I had just seen. "Insurance reasons," I was told. This was too bad. Corridors & Parallels is an astounding album. The synth usually adds a "fusion" dynamic in current jazz, but here it is used for melodic texture, except for one ironically digitalized tune, "Jazz Fi-Sci." "Mother May You Rest In Bliss" is worth the price of the CD. It is six minutes of pure emotional power. Ware's horn shines with a sharp rawness. Parker bows his bass in a thundering groan. Brown's cymbals shimmer at the edges. And Shipp's synth produces an understated, gospelized euphoria. It is a tune inside which you will want to rest as well, in bliss. KREG HASEGAWA

BIS
Return to Central

(spinART Records)
**1/2

Bis' professional debut was a wonderfully blistering techno/punk bowl of sugar-laced arsenic. The band's second record sported a decidedly more traditional techno sound. With the newest release, Return to Central, Bis lands somewhere in between. While the CD is nowhere near as scathing (or self-mocking) as 1997's New Transistor Heroes, there's still more edge here than on 1999's Social Dancing. Return to Central opens with the head-bobbing "What You're Afraid Of" and moves into the superb "Silver Spoon," "The End Starts Today," and "Protection." Though the "death to adults/power to kids" message of the first album is absent, Bis still maintains a healthy alternative outlook. The songs have beats that, if I were the clubgoing type, I could dance to--solid techno/rock songs with Manda Rin's lovely voice and beats that, unlike traditional techno, don't become repetitively annoying for those of us not hyped up on E. MIKE SLEMBROUCK

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