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The Good, The Bad and ...

Well, just the good and the bad.

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Arkansas Heat
The Gossip
Kill Rock Stars

Ah, that most esoteric of worlds -- independent pop music.

Filled with strange, inscrutable trends that not even the most astute of mainstream journalists would dare approach (though how we like them to try), indie rock is an ever-changing, entropic vortex of teen-agers trying too hard, adults aging poorly, and drugs affecting fashion. For every Magnetic Fields that comes across the pike, there's a thousand Promise Rings farting at its heels. The resurgence of the bowl cut? Get the scissors. I'm going to die before I'm old enough to feel embarrassment anyway.

In the grand indie-rock spirit of ill-thought-out ideas being executed poorly comes The Gossip, a band I could describe as no-fi lesbian boogie blues, but will instead call unlistenable meta-garbage. Singer Beth Ditto is a vocal nightmare of Ashcroftian proportions, belting out what the press sheet indicates are lyrics about muff diving and, well, lesbian stuff. There's not much more to say about the music here. Bad riffs, dachshund vocals. Put this on a mix tape for someone you hate.

Indie rock is in a weird place right now, but that's no excuse for making a record like this. What the White Stripes are getting so right, bands like The Gossip and the Mooney Suzuki are getting so so wrong. Keith Richards' ambling, clawing husk will not rest until we've calmed his soul by destroying the likes of ... this, these hellish monstrosities he never could have guessed he'd spawn.

Turn on the Bright Lights
Interpol
Matador

Seriously, this is one of the worst... things I've heard in the last two years ... oh, sorry. I was still thinking of that awful Gossip CD.

Actually, this one's rather decent -- really good, in fact. These Interpol guys dress as if they're living the life so many of us dream about, and the life so many emcees rhyme about -- expensive transportation, well-mixed hard liquor, uncomfortable furniture and syphilis.

I have a feeling they know how to have a good time. However, on this, their debut LP, they're certainly not showing it much. Lots of songs about depressed women, New York and wonderfully, Leif Erickson. Even the name Interpol conjures images of Blade Runneresque dystopia and lots of black, fitted clothing. It's all pretty effective. The music certainly doesn't betray any of the dark forebodings the packaging suggests, but did I mention it's good?

The music goes something like this: First, it's a veritable mess of slow, droning beats, minor-key effect swirls, and half-mumbled proclamations of doom. Singer Paul Banks bellows out a pretty damn great Ian Curtis homage. (This is a much-refined version of the N York sound that's become such a favorite around thrift shops lately.) Bottom line: The opening track sounds like Radiohead paying tribute to Depeche Mode, with a moaning "surpriiiiiiiiissseee... sometiiiiiimmmmmeeessss....... come a-rooooouuunnnnd ...," and it somehow manages to get stuck in your head for days.

The album goes through its courses, sounding rather nice, if a bit samey, until it reaches its first climax: the exhilaratingly and truly fresh bizzity "Say Hello to the Angels" -- a wonderful song that starts off sounding worryingly "punk" until it explodes into a wonderful, danceable rhythm, the whole reminiscent of "Just Like Heaven" or "Temptation." It's catchy, gothy and strangely exuberant.

As nice as the album is, its highlights are good enough to make the rest seem like an afterthought. The next high point, "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down," has two main things going for it: 1) A truly dopetacular song title. 2) A good enough song to back it up. It's all I ask, really.

Effective as hipster-makeout music, atmospheric doom and gloom, and a surprisingly top-notch hangover suppressant, I would recommend this album to anyone who wants something sexed-up, intelligent and moody enough to send Robert Smith to therapy. Here's hoping the actual talents associated with the newest trend backwards in rock music will ride the wave out and continue doing something worthwhile when it's all over in six months.

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