Showbox at 8 p.m.
Wed., Feb. 25. $13 adv./$15.
David Pajo is a real slave to history, both personal—with pioneering math-rockers Slint and then pioneering post-rockers Tortoise—and musical. His early solo work, as Aerial M, was little more than Slint's strum-strum-BLAMMO minus the goth poetry. But on Papa M's 1999 album Live From a Shark Cage, guitars (both acoustic and electric) and banjos approximated childlike blues, unspooled slithering ragas, and (as on the epic, 15-minute "I Am Not Lonely With Cricket") transformed the repetitive plaints of folk music into epic space-rock liftoffs. On 2001's Whatever, Mortal (so inoffensively bland I had forgotten it existed until this review), he decided to sing, coming off somewhere between low-budget Leonard Cohen and his buddy Will Oldham. A collection of singles released between 1995 and 2002, the new Hole of Burning Alms (Drag City) mercifully sticks mostly to instrumentals. (Though he does pointlessly cover the Misfits' "Last Caress.") He fares best on tracks like "Safeless," a song Slint wrote but never recorded, and on an alternate mix of "Up North Kids No. 2," from Shark Cage, which sounds like a snippet from an Allman Brothers Band jam. Ironically, Alms' best track is a wide-screen instrumental remake of the Byrds "Turn! Turn! Turn!" on which Pajo inflates the chiming hooks of the original to Thanksgiving Parade balloon–size. As familiar chords surge heavenward, you might wonder just how "post" this rock really is. When all else fails, cheap ploy or not, aggrandized historical epics can wow just as much on the stereo as on the screen. JESS HARVELL
Sunset Tavern at 9 p.m.
Fri., Feb. 27. $7.
With the proliferation of annoying genre names and ultrasmart musical styles, it's refreshing to find something that still qualifies as rock. The New Mexicans' debut, Chickenhead Talking Diamonds, due out in May on Stuck Under the Needle, is a relentless, dizzying slab of the stuff. The Mexicans' sound is defined by frantic guitar melodies that jitter all around hurried rhythms, alternately mimicking and sparring with one another for dominance, and at times converging in orchestrated brutality. Think early Rye Coalition thrown into the gears of later Jawbox, with everyone involved dabbling in methamphetamines. The result is a decidedly static sound that never takes its foot off the gas until it's driven all the way home and straight through the garage door. That's not to say, though, that there's anything garage-y about the Mexicans' sound. It's intricate and polished, with more math than high school. All this luster contrasts with Rob Hampton's scratch-and-sneer vocals, and it's clear he's mostly talking shit, but you'd be hard-pressed to discern what about. Instead we get: "I'm not afraid/I know I'll be OK/I'll either land on my head or my ass," and later, "Don't talk to strangers/Don't look them in the eye/They're lying to you." Their song titles ring loud and clear, though—try "I'm Going to Go Put on My Cape and Go Jack Off to Some Beat Happening CDs" or "This Is Where the Awesome Comes In." GRANT BRISSEY
Neumo's at 8 p.m.
Mon., March 1. $10 adv./$12.
Despite what we'd like to think, critics' darlings don't necessarily wield much influence on the music that follows them. Back in 1984, albums by the Del-Lords and the Del Fuegos were blasting to the tops of critics' polls and promising to herald a new movement in music. But as it turns out, the bands that most critics scorned that same year—Duran Duran, the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen—have become a wellspring of influence for a host of indie buzz bands 20 years later. Not many bands sound like the Del-Lords today, but a whole lot of them sound like Echo & the Bunnymen: washy guitars, dark keyboards, repetitive Velvets-derived drone, half-strangled, half-bored vocals. That's how I'd describe the Montreal four-piece the Stills. Like their forebears, the Stills have so far received a lukewarm reception from critics, who favor instead the edgier bands from Canada's vibrant indie scene, like Broken Social Scene and the Unicorns. And as a young band, the Stills have yet to hit their stride musically—Logic Will Break Your Heart (Vice/Atlantic) shows promise, but it's the sort of promise that can give a debut full-length greater import than it actually has. At times, the band's early-'80s influences are a little too high in the mix: "Still in Love Song" swipes a snaky John Taylor bass line, and "Of Montreal" crawls with the same slo-mo languor that made Echo's "The Killing Moon" such a creepy delight. The Stills may never become a critical favorite, but if they learn to transcend their influences, they may yet become an influence themselves. CHRIS LORRAINE