March is looking like a great month for music in Denver. We've reviewed a few CDs from these upcoming acts:

March 2: Johnathan Richman at The Bluebird Theater and Rufus Wainright at The Gothic

March 8: Daniel Dale Johnston at 15th Street Tavern

March 10: The Moldy Peaches play The Bluebird

March 18: Le Tigre at The Gothic

March 23: Bad Religion at DU's Magness Arena

Check out the Listings on page 41 for details.

-- Noel Black, A&E Editor

The Process of Belief
Bad Religion

Punk rock, as a rule, is a young man's game. Its legends either implode or become irrelevant. Then again, there always has to be an exception to the rule. Process of Belief is an album of punk songs made by guys who have grown up, but thankfully, not grown old. While other punk bands fuse teen-age angst with three-chord pop, Bad Religion has crafted a legacy of thought-out ire and tuneful ferocity.

With the return of founding member Brett Gurewitz on rhythm guitar and production duties, that legacy has never served them better. Lead singer, Greg Graffin, has a Ph.D. and is one of the world's leading bone tissue paleontologists. It would be easy for him to talk down to the rest of us. Instead we get intellectual, unpretentious, word play. On "You Don't Belong," Graffin dissects the flaws in being punk, and dubs himself and his peers "a confederacy of dunces," a reference to the novel by John Kennedy Toole. "Epiphany" asks "If it's real for me, do I have to prove it to you?/ It's oh so relative subservient in total to one's perspective." These middle-aged rants are played as they should be -- lean, fast and hard.

Coming in at less than 40 minutes, Process of Belief proves to be that rarest of things -- a return to form without pretense. Bad Religion is going against the grain of a musical style they helped define more than 20 years ago. Their rebellion has produced an album that burns like youth, with an intensity that you only get from age.

-- Brandon Laney

The Guest
Phantom Planet

Phantom Planet is famed for its drummer, Jason Schwartzman, the gifted actor that brought Rushmore's underdog hero, Max Fischer to life. While his performance in that film was genius, his band's second album of power pop, The Guest, is closer to clever. Relaxed guitars and sunny vocals envelop every song like an invitation. "California," the band's ode from the road to the Golden State, and the Elvis Costelloinjected "Nobody's Fault" stand out, but none of the songs ever assert themselves enough to be undeniable. The Guest is flawed, but Phantom Planet has what a lot of bands are painfully devoid of --promise. To fulfill that promise they'll need to figure out how to graduate from merely catchy to out-and-out hum-able, and from the sound of it, they're on the right track.

-- Brandon Laney

Bad Astronaut vs. Armchair Martian
Bad Astronaut/ Armchair Martian
O & O Recordings

Armchair Martian and Bad Astronaut recorded this split in nine days. Bad Martian wrote the songs, Armchair Martian recorded, and vice versa. With those facts in mind, one would assume this split EP would be a mess. But as the saying goes, "When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me." In lieu of the expectant mess, you get seven sad, thoughtful and occasionally funny countrified punk gems. If you're looking for a good time, go listen to something else. This here is the terrain of the broken hearted and disillusioned. Even when Armchair Martian is singing about drinking with Billy Idol in "Not a Dull Moment," you might be inclined to blubber. The punk structure of the songs sometimes undermines the lyrical content (i.e., "Jessica's Suicide") but otherwise blends quite nicely with the somber mood of the album. The cumulative effect of this EP is not unlike being drunk, and lonely -- in a good way.

-- Brandon Laney

I'm Waking Up To Us
Belle & Sebastian
Matador Records

If I'm Waking Up To Us was the first thing I'd ever heard by Scottish indie-pop group Belle & Sebastian, then I'm sure I'd be driven wild with swoons. But since their U.S. debut album If You're Feeling Sinister in 1998 and the re-release of their first album Tiger's Milk in 1999 (among others), I've followed every lilting note of Stuart Murdoch's golden choir-boy voice, the Morrissey-damaged lyrics, and the retro orchestral pop sound, and I can't say this three-song EP adds anything brilliantly new. Old riffs, the signature trumpet dotting the Charlie Brown piano melodies, and new variations on old moping vignette lyrics like: "I need someone to take some joy in something I do," and "There's misery in all I hear and see/ From the people on TV/ After their tea when life begins again/ They'll be happier than me." If you aren't familiar with Belle & Sebasatian, this EP is just as good a place to start as any since all of the songs sound like they could belong to any of their albums. You'll never feel alone on Friday night again!

-- Noel Black

The Moldy Peaches
The Moldy Peaches
Rough Trade Records

OK, this album isn't so new (released mid-2001). But it is, as Tony the Tiger is wont to say, grrrrreat! And in honor of the fact that the Moldy Peaches will be at the Bluebird Theater next week, we thought it'd be a worthy review. Consisting primarily of frontspeople Adam Green and Kimya Daws Lon, the Moldy Peaches are a self-described "anti-folk" band, which translates into something between acoustic punk and lo-fi-emo-garbage (in the best sense!). This four-track duo specializes in songs driven by broke-and-disaffected-smart-kid lyrics like: "Without 40 ounces of social skills/ I'm just an ass in the crack of humanity/ I'm just a huge manatee" and "I used to be dead, but now I'm gay." Shake your bucket to "Dowloading Porn With Davo." Snap your fingers to the minimal Beat parody "These Burgers" (are crazy). And party hard, but not too hard, to their hit single "Who's Got the Crack?" If you like music with feeling, intelligence and lots of well-used dirty words -- music that even you might be able to make -- then you'll want to check this out.

-- Noel Black

Feminist Sweepstakes
Le Tigre
Mr. Lady Records

This third release from Bikini Kill's leading lady Kathleen Hannah seems to have abandoned the bubbly good-times pissed-off rock of their self-titled 1999 debut. But you still can't find any better way to get your daily dose of feminism than Le Tigre's hybrid of driving guitar scratch, electro-synth and samples. "Tell your friends I'm still a feminist./ But I won't be coming to your benefit," mocks Hannah on "Much Finer," pointing the finger as only an activist truly can. A Steve Reichlike sampling of audio from the 2001 Dyke March loops cheers like "We Recruit" and "Resist. Resist." Still, I miss the cheekier delivery of "What's Your Take On Cassavetes?" and "Hot Topic." Maybe Hannah felt like she was losing her cred? High on rage, and low on hooks -- this one sounds a bit too much like Bikini Kill.

-- Noel Black



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