The Maroons' second album, You're Gonna Ruin Everything, is Honda Civic power pop: It's respectable enough, but it never moves so much as to really thrill you. Singer and guitarist John Moen does double duty as drummer for Stephen Malkmus' backing band the Jicks; he's also pounded the kit for the Fastbacks and Elliott Smith. Like Smith, Moen has a singing voice that's too light to be a song's chief accelerator. But unlike Smith, he doesn't make up the difference with clever songwriting or arrangements. That's not to say there aren't some interesting touches here and there. The opening tune, "Shipwrecked," is built on a musical pulse that's oddly reminiscent of the ticktock strings in the Days of Our Lives theme; Mike Clark (another Jick) works toy keyboards and clavichord into "Skipping the Introduction"; and the band finally finds some chunky riffage on the album's penultimate song, "Kevin's." But these parts aren't enough to add up to an impassioned sum. The fair-to-middlin' energy on "Blindfold Follies," for instance, doesn't feel desperate enough to complement lines like "Throw me a line or a life. . . . I was screamin' for validation." The Maroons' roster, which also includes Minus 5 member Jim Talstra, is plenty accomplished backing others. But converting musical ability into fire requires more horsepower than this. Chris Nelson
The Maroons play Chop Suey at 9 p.m. Sat., June 8. $7.
DAVE ALVIN & THE GUILTY MEN
Out in California
Live album takes head Blaster's domain public.
With apologies to James Brown, Dave Alvin just may be the hardest working man in showbiz. If he's not producing great records (see Christy McWilson, Derailers) or recording his own, chances are Alvin's onstage somewhere in the world—with the Blasters or the Knitters or his own Guilty Men. Alvin's latest offering—a live in Cali compilation— offers an interesting mix of songs, including an unconventional combo of the commonplace ("Abilene" and "Haley's Comet") and the irreverent (Little Walter's "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" and Bo Carter's salacious "All 'Round Man"). Alvin delves into the public domain for the bluesy "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down" and into his own songbook for the Blasters fave "Little Honey" and the oft-recorded "Fourth of July." As always, Alvin's talking vocal style is the presentation's weakest link, yet the band is smoking throughout, especially Joe Terry's barrelhouse piano on "Wanda and Duane," Rick Shea's pedal steel on the title track, and Brantley Kearns' tasty fiddle on the ode to car music, "Blue Boulevard." And when Alvin accepts an audience request for "Free Bird," the Guilty Men blast into an abbreviated version that would make any post- 1977 incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd go back to the drawing board. Scott Holter
(Saddle Creek CD)
More beautifully tortured tunes from the Saddle Creek collective.
Old Blood, the debut from Lincoln, Neb.'s Mayday, is a record about birth and death, self-love and abnegation, and all the other polar opposites that could possibly exist in the mind of one human being. Principal songwriter Tim Stevens (also of Lullaby for the Working Class) tears into himself to get at the meat of these issues, yielding some gorgeous and turbulent songwriting in the process. Aided by his Lullaby for the Working Class bandmates and a host of Saddle Creek luminaries, Stevens creates an unearthly mix of glam showmanship and warped Cure-like meanderings that reinforce the tortured mood: Violins shrill over effects-laden pianos and organs, guitars crash in thick, dramatic chords, and female backing vocals hang over the songs like a fog. Stevens' voice is jagged and passionate and sounds as if he might burst into tears at any moment. On tracks like "Confession" and "Lullaby for the Sleeping Elephant," he seems stretched taut, almost as if he were waiting to collapse under the weight of his own self-directed emotional inquiry. Thus, on "Captain," when he wails, "We're determined to find our own way/Even if it takes us to the last day of May," it's hard not to believe him. Tizzy Asher