Love and Misery

One Chord Wonders

KARL HENDRICKS TRIO Sings About Misery and Women CD/LP (Fiasco) Karl Hendricks' sadnesses are our reward. Miserable he may be, but he's not about to abandon his calling: that of writing spiffily memorable rock tunes, enough of them to drag us out of our grunge-induced lethargy up to the heights of Punk Rock Simplicity Mountain (which is where Nirvana thought they were leading us in the first place, right?). Most of Karl's songs have a crunchy college-rock beat (like Superchunk) though a few of the best, like "Romantic Stories from the War," are slow dissections of his own self-pity (don't worry: no violins, no keyboards, no reverb and no big hair involved).

The real brilliance comes when you pay attention to what he's singing: "I think I know you/ Better than I know myself/But I still don't know you that well" ("Distant Relations"). Hendricks is no Henry James (Henry James couldn't play electric guitar, anyway), but he knows more about why boys and girls can't get along, and why some boys can't get along with themselves, than any other boy in American rock and roll--the dozen or so songs here won't have you singing along so much as nodding your head in agreement. The Karl Hendricks Trio will be playing at the Middle East this Saturday, October 16, with Antietam and Smog.

SMALL FACTORY I Do Not Love You CD/LP (spinArt) Small Factory are on America's longest-running sugar high. The Providence, R.I., trio used to bounce onstage with what looked like a miked acoustic guitar and an acoustic bass guitar, perfectly suited to the clean sound, rapid strum and deliberately amateurish vocal harmonies that dominate their speedy indie-pop. Alex now plays an ordinary electric bass, but the unpretentious spirit has stayed the same: "Come Back Down," or anything else from the second half of this album, will have anyone remotely tune-sensitive bobbing her head up and down in time, in no time flat. Alex, Dave and Phoebe's strenuous insistence on singing about life as if it were grade school has the benefit, first of all, of reminding you how much fun it was (occasionally) to be a kid: Aren't "Friends" as good a reason for pop songs as the run-of-the-mill broken heart? Listen harder, and the irony comes through: The album-closing, cleanly-played, slow-unto-death "Junkie on a Good Day" (a love-rock version of the Velvets' "Heroin") brings home the angst the fast tunes have been hiding. "Friends," which they've been performing for years, is at least as much about resenting your friends as it is about enjoying them. You have to have friends to resent 'em, though: After two great singles and three years of crowded club shows, this first full-length release should make Small Factory several thousand new ones.

VERLAINES Way Out Where (Slash/Warner Bros.) Before 1995, one of the long-lived quality bands from New Zealand's South Island will make it big over here. That band will not be the Verlaines (it'll probably be the Bats); despite being one of the first NZ bands to sign to an American major label, the Verlaines are too smart, and too precious, ever to find mass success.

Graeme Downes embraced pop music 10 years ago while finishing a master's thesis on Mahler: Maybe that classical knowledge is where Downes gets his odd chord progressions and aerial, convoluted melodies, with ups and downs intricate enough to match those in even the moodiest soul. As their response to big, bad America (evidence: the stunningly ugly Wild West vulture on the cover), Way Out Where is more "rock," more straightforward than the last two Verlaines outings. On the one hand, as the inspiring title track and the pounding "Incarceration" show, incitement to rock has only helped Downes' songwriting. On the other hand, a generic Hollywood producer gave Way Out Where a digital sheen more suited to WFNX (which won't care) than to the fans who will actually buy the record. If you've never heard the Verlaines, don't start here--start with Juvenilia (Homestead/Flying Nun), their best and earliest work, recently reissued on CD with several added tracks. The Verlaines faithful aren't quite a church--more like a grad seminar; if you've already done the prerequisites, Way Out Where will make you glad you're taking the course.


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