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Gutsy Guitars

Lurking just beyond Top-40 there is a realm of music that refuses to be pegged as independent or progressive or alternative. This mystery genre has its own sense of dynamic that pays no tithing to MTV or radio airplay; it exists in shadow, and flourishes in the attention of discriminating listeners who find nothing but boredom among the sameness of commercial music.

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STEVE FARMER: Journey to the Darkside of the Mind (CD on Saint Thomas Records)

Steve Farmer was an original member of the Amboy Dukes, the Sixties psychedelic rock band that gave us the pop classic "Journey to the Center of the Mind" and launched Ted Nugent's career.

Well, it's 2000, and this 52 minute CD represents a return to the limelight for Farmer and fellow Dukes cohort Rick Lober. While the Amboy Dukes explored drug psychedelica in the Detroit of the Sixties, Farmer's current music is examining the dark side of psychedelic sensibilities in the new century.

Expect raucous rock'n'roll this time. Thick with squealing guitars and slippery keyboards and pummeling drums, the tuneage revolves around dynamic vocals that cry from beyond the shadows. Crooning lyrical content that echoes richly from powerful throats, this music possesses a modern edge mixed with the rock passion of those bygone days.

Think guitars: razor-stringed, lilting rhythms, crashing ax-work, wailing riffs, and flashing fingers. Imagine keyboards that drone into epic sweeps and glistening backdrops of moody sonic curtains. Just try and avoid the sturdy, relentless drums.

While the title track derives its melodic backbone from the original Sixties "Journey" song, the rest of the tracks on this CD are steeped in kick-ass stamina and today's sound. The music pounds out with forceful delivery and stalwart performance: hard rock for those willing to stomp for joy.

Most of these songs are vigorous and searing, but there are several pieces that temper the frenzy with softer almost gothic moods, blending an acoustic edge with the Motor City sound. Some tracks even possess a synthesizer presence, utilized in a simplified manner to startle rather than smooth the tuneage. There's even a periodic hint of blues going on, expertly hidden in the dense mix.

Overall, though, the sentiment and tone is one of blistering rock music, devoted to loud clarity and shiny black leather garb. This CD will find strong appeal among those looking to reclaim the power and emotions of the good old days of primal rock'n'roll.

This is the type of music that takes no prisoners, converting bodies to thrash with wild abandon.

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PRAISE OF FOLLY: Disillusioned (CD on Saint Thomas Records)

Praise of Folly is a strong blend of Bauhaus, the Cure, and other gothic influences, filtered through a modern lens that brings a vibrant glow to such shadowy sounds.

Sinuous guitars waver in a darkness rich with domineering percussives, romantic-voiced vocals, and...more guitars. Growling guitars, crunching strings to produce snarling chords and serpentine riffs. Lush melodies, dark yet glistening with oily appeal.

The vocals possess a byronic quality, reverberating syllables into darkwave lyrics that glorify cemetery mists and gardens of shriveled growths. Disdaining material gain, the mood revels in magnifying the sour taste of emotional defeat. Despite these downbeat topics, the voice itself swells with a grandeur and majesty, slightly tinged wit a distant echo. The timbre cascades with a definitive command that is difficult to argue with.

The cry of the guitars is a major draw. Versatile and sensuous, the guitars generate spectral riffs, worrying the notes with passionate torture. The melodies flow with rhythm guitars creating a cimmerian atmosphere for the lead guitar to cavort, twisting chords into tremendously shrill expressions that wrench the muscles surrounding the heart with an ache for release. The presence of an underpinning bassline goes almost unnoticed in the inviolable voice of the St. Elmo's Fire guitars.

While most goth rock celebrates despair and angst, Praise the Folly goes beyond these fatalistic sentiments, raising a glimmer of hope through inner strength. The wisdom concealed in these 45 minutes of somber and exciting music: the horrific night and sunlit madness can be banished by conviction and positive focus.

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SEX WITH LURCH: Sex with Lurch (CD on Saint Thomas Records)

Perhaps you find goth rock too depressing, but you go for that darkwave sound. Well, then you'll find Sex with Lurch more in tune with that empty groove in your ears.

Translucent guitars swim with wavering effect in the basement, sounding with both psychedelic and surf riffs. There's chilling drumming generating a sinuous backbeat, with ghostly electronics whistling just inside your peripheral hearing. Slippery bass creeps through the mix like an ever-increasing pool of dark fluid. While the vocals are undulating and crisp, crooning with alternative resonance and howling for the moon to hurry up and rise.

The tuneage slides into your world with non-threatening intent, celebrating strangeness and delivering cool riffs mixed with a predilection for the weird. Uptempo and eminently danceable, this music avoids angst and emotional torture, centering its attitude upon cleverness and mutual fun-time. Even when the pace steps down for a moodier passage, there still remains an oomph that chuckles at the dark as the monster's claws reach for the neck.

Among this CD's 44 minutes of upbeat weirdness you'll encounter "Space Kitty", "Praying Mantis", "Monster Surf Party", "Jaguar Woman", "I Wanna Love You in Outer Space", and "Night of the Surfing Dead".

These songs exhibit a wider appeal base than just scary fun; they delve deeper into the well of bridging Fifties sci-fi and horror films with today's youth. The dominant tone is one of fun, though, not brooding introspection. Mixing dance parties and zombies with outer space monsters and cosmic dimensional breaks, Sex with Lurch treats these topics with a sense of humor that is often too subtle for outright laughter.

They're like the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" of surf goth: dark and eerie, but tinged with an unpretentious street-savvy and a trait for fusing relevance with the fantastic.

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