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From First to Last

Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Bodycount
Epitaph

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From First to Last suffers from a sort of dual personality. Much like the mind's id, the band members want to rock out like hard-core madmen, but the ego's radio-friendly whiny punk is what sells. Their first album, Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Bodycount excels when they full-on rock out. Granted, the observation is obviously a personal preference, but unfortunately the aggro moments are not enough to break up the boohoo monotony. "The One Armed Boxer vs. the Flying Guillotine" stomps its way through the first track, growling "Kill the lights!" to the masses. The song maintains a melodic punk edge with vocals lapping in an all-out battle of earnest against screaming. After a sampling of a possible glorious horizon, the album starts to tread tepid water. "Emily" is an acoustic, oddly out-of-place, on-tour love letter, just the thing to make the young ones swoon. With lines like "Our hearts beat strong under fictitious skies," the diary fodder lyrics are achingly indicative of the new Hot Topic-endorsed era of quasi-punk.

These Arms Are Snakes

Oxeneers or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelopes Go Home
Jade Tree

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Forgive me for referencing Fugazi so much, but Lord, it's obvious that These Arms have a heavy background in the best of Dischord Records' discography from the 1990s. And frankly, that's good. Their first full-length album, Oxeneers or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelopes Go Home, is the best new punk that I've heard in a while, even if its title is a wee pompous with its Fiona Apple-like lengthiness. The group adds a modern twist with synth instruments and lyrics that, like Blood Brothers, offer often-disturbing, disconnected vignettes in a style that may be known now as "emo-hard core," like short stories told half-screaming with great guitar hooks. "Angela's Secret" has a dance-fueled buzzsaw beat, as if Franz Ferdinand suddenly delved into punk rock. Staccato social prophecies abound in "Greetings From the Great North Woods." Smartly crafted diversions intercede, with "Tracing Your Pearly Whites" and "Gadget Arms" lapsing into a dreamy art-rock space. Always one to give food for thought, These Arms end on this note: "May your lips never touch your timecard again."

Various Artists

The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered
Gammon

To bastardize the quote, Daniel Johnston's death has been greatly exaggerated. Johnston is the indie rock star most people have never heard of, but he still somehow manages to influence and find fans among bands like Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo and artists such as Kurt Cobain (also dead). The two-CD set is a good intro to the man, one CD featuring Johnston's original versions and the second with covers by the Eels, Clem Snide, Flaming Lips, Beck and others. Taped with a hand-held recorder and accompanied by a Casio keyboard and out-of-tune guitar strumming, Johnston's plaintive voice and naivet grow on the listener. The covers are well put together, though many artists play straight replicas -- what's the point? The album succeeds when a band expounds on the original. TV On the Radio's version of "Walking the Cow" takes Johnston's odd pop organ and bongo beat, slows it down, and adds heavy fuzz for prime effect. Calvin Johnson attaches a catchy beat to "Sorry Entertainer," recalling the best of Beat Happening. Wrapping it all up is Tom Waits' "King Kong," which is a ground-stomping love song about the famous monkey.

-- Kara Luger

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