STRANGERCROMBIE 2006 PURCHASE

HALF ZAFTIG

Life Like Luster

(Wonky Records)

Even if Half Zaftig hadn't bought this review as part of Strangercrombie, there would be at least a couple things to really love about them: They make use of the Tim Gunn–approved word "zaftig," which is always appreciated, and they have the infinite courage (or, as the kids say, "balls") to cover such untouchable bands as My Bloody Valentine, Neil Young, and Van Halen. And if they're not better than those three acts combined (sorry, your Strangercrombie dollar doesn't go that far), they at least do loving, spot-on versions of such canonical songs as "Only Shallow," "In a Simple Rhyme," and "Cinnamon Girl."

In addition to the influences they've covered, the band also draw upon classic rock, pop, blues, metal, and Seattle's rich grunge history for their originals, any of which would sound just fine sandwiched between songs on the End or KISW. Over the course of this disc's 14 tracks, Half Zaftig prove themselves again and again to be formidable musicians with an unshakeable artistic vision.

The band seem pretty self-aware for an aspiring act—their songs are peppered with self-referential lyrics and sly nods to various artists and genres—yet they don't seem to take themselves too seriously, and they're not above the occasional joke. Their ability to fluidly switch styles from song to song is evidence of their technical proficiency, and they clearly had access to enough studio time to make even these "rough mixes" sound superbly clean and professional. And these are all wonderful traits for a struggling, unknown band to possess—traits that will serve them well on their inevitable rise through the local bars to the arenas, private jets, and the world-conquering fame that awaits them. ERIC GRANDY

THE WHORE MOANS

Watch Out for This Thing

(Wizard House)

Watch Out for This Thing is the best blistering-hot melting pot that's been cooked up in recent history, combining soul, rock and roll, hardcore, garage, and punk into one sweeping blur of heavily bassed and wonderfully brash rock songs. With surprising bits of harmonica, tambourine, and horns, and vocals that go from classic-rock howling to guttural growling to cocky prowling, the Whore Moans refuse to be boring.

Throughout, Ryan Devlin's bass lines hold their own like bass lines haven't been held in a long time—think the fingerprint-shredding quickness of Rancid's Matt Freeman. Jason Kilgore's drumming matches Devlin's fluidity with his own shattering precision.

With its wonky "power-ballad" guitar intro, closing song "5250 Blur" is perhaps the weakest track on Watch Out—it lacks the same bite, that magnetic charisma that the Whore Moans so successfully convey on preceding songs like the scorching "I Say Blood Three Times," the anthemic "Disappear," and the eerie and Fugazi-ish "I Hope You Roll Your Car on the Freeway." But even with that one weak spot, the 10-track album is a wicked success.

The best part is that this shit is from right here in Seattle. With other locals the Hands, Thee Emergency, and the Invisible Eyes also starting to break ground, this city's sitting on the edge of another rock-and-roll rejuvenation. The Whore Moans should lead the pack for the new generation. MEGAN SELING

The Whore Moans' CD-release party is Thurs Jan 25 at the Sunset with No-Fi Soul Rebellion and Partman Parthorse.

OF MONTREAL

Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

(Polyvinyl)

1/2

Clearly, Outback Steakhouse is the Destroyer, but let's pretend it doesn't exist. Because, really, it was only a matter of time before some enterprising restaurant chain recognized Kevin Barnes's shimmering, advert-ready pop and subverted the lyrics to sell "Awesome Blossoms" or whatever. The reason we forgive Barnes for such indie infidelities is that he's one of the most prolific and poppy songwriters around, and his eccentric arrangements really are as hard to forget as the cheesiest jingle—in another life he could've had a brilliant career in the Brill building.

Barnes's goofy experimentalism and graceful melodies have benefited from increasingly clean production over the years, and Hissing Fauna feels like the culmination of that process. The album's packaging folds out to form a rounded black cross containing five colorful, intricate mandalas (painted by Barnes's brother David). The artwork hints at the brightness and attention to detail that distinguish this faultless collection.

The album opens with some brief babble from (presumably) Barnes's baby before his whole multitracked one-man band kicks in with a rush of beautiful cacophony and the line: "We just wanna emote till we're dead/I know we suffer for fashion or whatever." It's a pretty clear mission statement from someone who traffics in costume changes and melodramatic confessionals. The album gallops along from one karaoke-worthy chorus to another (but of course you can't sing this well), propelled by winking (and sometimes wince-inducing) wordplay and deft instrumentation. Ordinarily this review would highlight a couple particularly great tracks and offer brief descriptions, but it's pretty hard to parse an album this consistently good. Suffice it to say, even the nearly-12-minute-long centerpiece, "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal," feels like just another perfect 3-minute pop song. ERIC GRANDY

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