Thursday, August 10, 2000
I Don't Think You Hear Me, Though
Ruskabank, a Manhattan, Kan., ska octet, has issued one of the definitive regional releases of the year with its recent effort, "I Don't Think You Hear Me, Though." The CD is jam-packed with highly danceable, sun-soaked grooves that sparkle with verve and plenty of shimmy shimmy ya. Ruskabank is a band that is gaining increasing notoriety in the region for its barnstorming live shows and ability to pack dance floors. It's great that a band like Ruskabank fits perfectly into the area music scene, carving a nice little niche for itself and continually gaining new fans. Songs like "Give It Up," "Cheer Up" and the quicksilver title track are short, sharp blasts of punked-up reggae that rock hard without resorting to the trendy gimmicks of so many ska outfits. Ska never sounded so good and, once again, the golden touch of producer Ed Rose proves magical. The 12 tracks of "Hear Me" positively jump out of the stereo with bright, punchy horns and skipping beats that are guaranteed to make you move. In fact, I dare you to stand still while listening to this CD. If you haven't seen this band live, you've missed out big time. Get a head start on the semester and study up on your groove thing at the next Ruskabank show.
San Francisco quartet Vue's eponymously titled second full-length release is chock full of hot, sweaty garage rock that pummels the senses with its brashness and raw power. The CD's opener, "White Traffic," is THE great lost Velvet Underground/Stooges song of the decade, a sneering, electric spasm of gritty rock that manages to sound simultaneously fresh and familiar. Most compelling is singer-guitarist Rex Shelverton who yelps, screams, moans, shudders, shakes, bobs and weaves all over the disc ï¿½ a shamanistic, possessed performance that bristles with electricity and purpose. When Shelverton starts screaming "touch me" over the organ-based cacophony of "Girl," you almost think you're hearing an early jam by The Doors. Vue also possesses a confidence and ability to wield its whisper-to-scream dynamics that you don't find in your garden-variety garage group. Shelverton is clearly Vue's sonic center of gravity and the rest of the band backs him ably, but ultimately falls short of providing the complex musical palette of acts like The Doors, the Clash or even Nirvana. Shelverton may very well be in the same league as Jim Morrison, Joe Strummer or Kurt Cobain, but his vision is hampered by the capable, but ungroundbreaking work of his band.
Lawrence duo Cruse is composed of vocalist ReGina Cruse and Brad Koehler, who handles keyboards, programming and sound design. Though the group is clearly influenced by the Pet Shop Boys, Berlin and the Eurythmics, the complex background backing provided by Koehler is infinitely more interesting than the bulk of those groups' output. On Cruse's debut, Koehler has produced something akin to Trent Reznor hanging out in Dave Stewart's studio with Brian Eno popping in from time to time. Koehler paints in broad strokes of splashy color and moody tones, blending brightly hued shades and dark dementia and delivering a sonic soundscape that perfectly compliments Cruse's voice. On the track "Hush Now Baby," Koehler keeps listeners at the ends of their toes, switching and mixing several, ever-changing sequences into a pastiche that is as artistic as it is musical. Cruse has a honey-dipped voice that drips of lustful sensuality and carnal possibility, striding through the walls of Koehler's haunted house like a siren. The superfunkycalifragisexy Berlin-meets-Prince uber hooks found in tracks like "Down By The River" and "Home" are perfectly suited for a night lost on the dance floor, while the equally catchy but moodier pieces like "Rain Down On Me" are custom-made for the morning after. Cruse's debut is the rare disc that sounds better via repeat testing and should expand the already popular duo's listening audience.