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VCR "Power Destiny" (Side One Dummy)

Goes well with a raised fist and a large dance floor.

Despite abundant electronics (three keyboards to go with bass and drums), Richmond's VCR comes over like an updated take on rude garage rock. Here on the band's debut full-length, everything is in-your-face and aggressive. Lead shouter Chad Middleton bellows like a man with a lot on his mind and not much time to get it all out; bassist Steve Smith and drummer Christian Newby seem to have about six arms between them; and Mya Anitai and Casey Tomlin are back there making keyboards wish they'd never rolled off a Japanese assembly line. VCR's relentless energy, developed during two years of steady touring, never flags; but with little variation in tone or tempo, eventually the songs become a touch monochromatic. During these lulls, when one enjoyably spazzy tune becomes difficult to distinguish from the next, a catchy sing-along hook is what's really needed. Fortunately, they arrive just often enough. *** — Mark Richardson



VCR plays a record release show on May 26 at Alley Katz.



Aaron Binder "Bang the Drum Quickly" (Self-released)

Goes well with Kerouac prose and all mod cons.

Richmond drummer Aaron Binder's newest release sounds like it could have been released in 1957. The hard-bop playing is fresh and straightforward — mercifully devoid of the reverence, ambition or self-consciousness that colors many straight-ahead sessions. The production — compressed, almost monaural — provides an appropriate black-and-white soundstage.

All of the songs are originals, the better to escape the shadow of interpretations of classic standards, according to Binder's liner notes. Some classic-era authenticity comes from pianist Hod O'Brien, who started his career in the late '50s and has maintained a pure commitment to swinging since. Charlottesville trumpeter and longtime mentor John D'earth brings his estimable strengths to the session, as do tenor saxophonist Jeff Decker and bassist Randall Pharr.

Such impressive company would distract attention from a flashy rhythm player, and Binder is self-effacing to a fault. His playing complements and shapes, but seldom takes center stage. The others may provide the melodic muscle, but Binder's the pulse and bone. *** — Peter McElhinney



The CD is available at Plan 9, as is Binder when working his day job.





The Slack Family "Trains and Rain" (self-released)

Goes well with rainy days, trains and barbecue parties.

On their latest, The Slack Family provides further proof why they're considered fine traditional bluegrass players with a contemporary feel. Their originals mix elements of acoustic, folk and bluegrass for a more modern sound, but their veteran playing on mandolin, bass and banjo — plus some skilled guest work on fiddle and dobro — is enough to satisfy the traditionalist urge.

Most of the CD was written on a rainy weekend on the south branch of the Potomac River in West Virginia, in a cabin near some train tracks, and the influence (and sounds) of trains runs through the evocative songs. One of the album's best numbers, the catchy, lazily drifting bluegrass-pop tune "Summertime," uses a studio effect that sounds like a vocal bridge is coming through a telephone receiver: "And all I need's fishing/and the act of contrition to show me what's down/And I don't need a fortune as if money's important/It weighs your butt down/I need the sunshine."

The band excels at spotless, radio-friendly harmonies, and lead singer Joe Wharff has a resonant baritone that sounds almost like it was meant for modern country. Bill McElroy of Slipped Disk studio does a great job of making the clean sound sparkle, while The Slack Family does its part to bring bluegrass into the modern age with songs that honor the past but look forward. ***

Brent Baldwin



The Slack Family plays Legend Brewery May 28.



The Great White Jenkins "Where Is Thy Sting?" (Patchwork Record Company)

Goes well with Appalachian folk and Hollywood Cemetery.

If an Appalachian folksinger wandered into a speakeasy and took the stage with a handful of horns, accordions, mandolins and perhaps a drum or two, you'd have something pretty close to The Great White Jenkins ... and that's a good thing. This disc is the essence of everyman's folk music, and we're not talking coffee-shop troubadours and weepy confessionals. Rather, it's a set of songs that lyrically weave in the macabre and the mundane of life accompanied by a host of players that give the disc texture and keep you guessing. Each track is the band trying something different. At times the vocals wander off-key, and it's just enough to remind us that this is the real deal. "O Night" is reminiscent of a coal miner's work song, but it also sounds like something you might hear a drunk singing into the night. This track saunters about with its intoxicated sliding horns courtesy of the Hollywood Cemetery Horns and is a definite standout. These seven songs indicate that with time and tweaking, something very interesting could come of the The Great White Jenkins. ** — Hilary Langford



The Great White Jenkins play Empire May 24.



Flying Shovels "Flying Shovels" (Self-released)

Goes well with levity and Boris Yeltsin.

Mixing the late-'80s/early-'90s trash-rock sound of the Cows and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion with some junkyard "Swordfishtrombones"-era Tom Waits, you would almost get Richmond's Flying Shovels. The final ingredient is one giant dose of levity.

The group is a side project for Jim Thomson, Rob Widdicombe and Charlottesville's Tom Peloso, who also plays with Modest Mouse. Each song on their 11-song debut is defined by its out-of-left-field intentions. Silliness is the sonic solution on the rockers: "Back of the Class," "Mailman" and the closing dose, the disturbingly catchy "Bad Girl." The band switches musical gears often, finding fresh ways to tweak the ear. "Nostrovia" sounds like a drunken trip through a Middle Eastern market, with catcalls, insistent piano and roaming melodic trumpet. The swanky word jazz of "The Petting Zoo" is a story filled with memorable verses that lack linear sense, which makes it all the more endearing — like "My life is just like one long bad NBC miniseries," or "A small child that looks like Boris Yeltsin."

Though the CD has a wide range of sounds, it's unified by its playfulness — a recommended listen for those who appreciate a sense of the musical absurd. **** — Chris Bopst



Moossa "Step Right Up" (504 North Records)

Goes well with front-porch keg parties and Jeep Wranglers.

Front man John Moossa's eponymous four-piece moves casually between genres on its second release. It's a talent these roots-rockers honed while paying their dues, playing covers in clubs and on college campuses. Though the band is still maturing toward its own signature sound, "Step Right Up" is more than a chaotic hodgepodge, thanks to credible musicianship and competent production at Lance Koehler's Minimum Wage Recording in Oregon Hill. Of these 16 tracks, all are originals, save Bob Marley's "Rebel Music," although the lighthearted "Little Bit Higher" also sways to a reggae beat. "Rock Down Steady" might be a Southern rock anthem but for the harmonica, while the vocal harmonies of "Dream" evoke the Eagles despite the song's psychedelic lyrics. As the album progresses, driving guitars — electric and acoustic — stitch together pop-punk, honky-tonk and gritty R&B. The frat folk of "Stephanie Seemed Like a Good Idea" has John Moossa playing the serious songwriter, but he and fellow songwriter bassist Ryan Davis are clearly more at home in a bar than a coffee shop; and a relentless touring schedule will keep them in bars around town all summer. *** — Nathan Lott



Moossa plays Café Diem May 17.



The Amoeba Men "... And Let the Infection Set In" (C.N.P Records)

Goes well with sci-fi surf rock and anger-management therapy.

Richmond sci-fi surf-rock three-piece Amoeba Men describe their music as "sounds for you to listen to while creating skeletons for your closet." With "... And Let the Infection Set In," fans of Helios Creed, Man or Astroman? or the Dead Kennedys are going to need more closet space.

The clipped, abrasive nature of the group is evidenced in their song titles. "If You Can't Join Them … Electrocute Them," "Itchy Trigger Fingers" and "Nazi Strip Club" are indicative of the jagged aggression the band has honed into a fine art. This is unapologetically combative music. Violent and relentless, tunes fly by at a dizzying pace defined by quick riffs, sudden time changes and antagonistic vocals. The swirling space rock of "Gusto" and the purposely unpleasant abrasion of "Knock Yourself Out" seethe with nasty intentions, calling to mind the work of the Ventures, Slayer and Naked City. There isn't a single moment on this disc that doesn't feel angry. If you are a fan of "American Idol," well then, you should stay far, far away from the Amoeba Men. They are the sound of people who hate you.

And what a sweet hate it is. **** — C.B.



The Amoeba Men play Nanci Raygun May 25.



Skylines "Identity" (Blood & Ink Records)

Goes well with sweat, fisticuffs and Frodus.

Skylines' first full-length album is an all-out assault on the ears that will leave fans of metallic hard-core in a frenzy. High-speed, vicious riffs tear through these 10 tracks flanked by fierce drum kicks and mad-as-hell vocals. You can forget trying to discern lyrics while listening. But one look at the liner notes reveals well-penned songs that revel in discontent, political unrest and revolt. "Forever" is a standout on this CD, which was recorded at Planet Red Studio with Chris Dowhan, and it warrants repeat listens. While Skylines doesn't explore any new territory on the album, and the band reminds me very much of Every Time I Die, this is a solid sucker punch of hard-core not for the faint of heart. ** — Hilary Langford

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