One of the great things about punk rock is that it doesn't have to be groundbreaking to work. Whereas last year's More Parts per Million was a breathless gathering of fist-pumping anthems, Fuckin' A is relatively measured— compositions are constructed more than hammered out, and even a guitar solo or two find their way in. Unfortunately, part of what made Million so rousing was a lack of restraint that implied frontman Hutch Harris might implode if he didn't get all this stuff off his chest right here and now. Harris may have used all the best shit from his notebook on Million, but there's no shortage of vitriolic inspiration these days: "Pray for a new state/Pray for assassination/I can hope, see/Even if I can't believe," he bellows on the overtly political "God and Country." His ability to deliver such lines with the sincerity of a drunk confessing a long-hidden love is one of the Thermals' biggest strengths. Whether he's singing about the perfect kiss or our fucked-up country, Harris does so with an idealist's conviction. And if being overt is becoming a theme with the Thermals, A, from the unimaginative title to Harris' sometimes uncomfortably sentimental musings ("I look in your eyes/You stare into mine/A stare like yours is hard to find/It's ultraviolet"), is no exception. This is, ironically, the album's salvation: A more complex approach would highlight a polarity between the lyrics and instrumentation, and this album would cease to be even a guilty pleasure. GRANT BRISSEY
The Thermals play Crocodile Cafe at 9 p.m. Mon., May 17. $8.
Wolves With Pretty Lips
Lots of bands (Radio Berlin, Hot Hot Heat, the Faint, Interpol) cop the dark new wave of the Cure's singles without recalibrating the sound. Layers of guitars and synth swirl over waves of dramatically miserable lyrics, and no one seems to mind that the stuff is the product of grand-theft goth-pop. By comparison, what New York-via-Chicago trio We Ragazzi steal amounts only to a misdemeanor. The mood of We Ragazzi's jagged pop dirges evokes early Cure, but the band—now back to its original lineup after drummer Timothy McConville subbed in on the band's second album—pitches in plenty of the post-post-punk angles-and-arithmetic aesthetic. With their thoroughly modern calculations, these songs aren't altogether singular, but they're not just 1986 redux, either. The guitars on the lead track, "Walking Before All Shadows," are particularly jabbing, as if the trio wanted to squeeze all their really crooked parts in early before the abrasive bent-fork style plays itself out completely. "Pretty Little Job" adds acutely abrasive sludge fuzz keyboards to the cutting guitars, and the one-two punch carries through seamlessly to the next track, "Making You Queens Tonight." In fact, Wolves is so cohesive that it often borders on sameness; the breakdown in "Pretty Little Job" is almost exactly like the opening riff in "When Young Lovers Have No Place to Go." Though singer/guitarist Tony Rolando's nasally vocals are fairly distinctive, one gets the feeling that his words don't really mean anything. This isn't a relationship record, it's a record for a one-night stand. LAURA CASSIDY
We Ragazzi play Neumo's at 6 p.m. with Minus the Bear, Vells, and Smoke and Smoke. Fri., May 14. $8 adv./$10.
YOUR ENEMIES FRIENDS
You Are Being Videotaped
It's called dance-punk instead of punk-dance for a reason: Pit a sensual hipster boy-girl harmony, percussive retro-electro bleeps, and the occasional gonzo sample against the same old dirty three-chord stomp, and you want to writhe, not rage. When the black-clad I-5 missionaries in Your Enemies Friends play out (they relocated from L.A. to Seattle around the release of debut EP The Wiretap before doubling back to Botoxburg last year), you're clearly witnessing punk-dance; wired guitarists Ronnie Washburn and Allen Watke crank reliable gutter riffs like grandmas on the slots, maintaining just the right are-these-scumbags-gonna-brain-me-with-their-headstocks menace. For much of Videotaped, regrettably, their throbbing-vein intensity is stunted by the genre's obligatory "sinister" keyboard ambience. Opening triad "The One Condition," "Back of a Taxi," and "Business French Kiss" buck with Washburn and co-vocalist Dana James' indignant eroticism ("Your body makes me feel like I'm alive, like I'm allowed in the back of a taxi," they sneer in the first single), but tired synth tsunamis overwhelm shred, fossilizing their unique upstart energy. Fortunately, it seems YEF can only gulp down so much punk-dance Rx, fashioning the final third of Videotaped as an ambitious, wild foray into Pink Floyd classicism. For all of its heroically strummed grandiosity, this cycle is queerly inviting; main lyricist Washburn is far less clinical and detached, almost sympathetic in begging, "Give my heartbeat what it fucking needs right now." Hope his enemies' friends have the courage to pursue similar intimate, vulnerable revelations—and rock the shit out of 'em. ANDREW BONAZELLI
Your Enemies Friends play Graceland at 6 p.m. with Midtown, Armor for Sleep, and Lances Hero. Thurs., May 13. $10 adv.
Pity poor JC Chasez. Seriously—JC's got it rough. Even after Nipplegate, the attendant PR idiocy, and some commentators realizing he's not actually a black man, Justin Timberlake (JC's former *NSync bandmate, if you've been in a Turkish prison) is still the hottest thing in day-old pube stubble. As if knowing he can't compete, JC has ditched Justin's nut-grabbing obviousness (the Neptunes, Timbaland, giving head to Britney) for more chart-unfriendly pleasures (Prince, house music, bonsai facial hair). Schizophrenic is a gift of an album title to critic schlubs like me, so let's get it out of the way: This album sounds like its title. It's half (mostly) unsuccessful attempts at escaping current pop–R&B hegemony and half watery retreats into same. Some writers have compared lead single "A.D.I.D.A.S." (ask your kid—or Killer Mike—what it means) with Joy Division. A more apt reading would be the ass-end of Wax Trax!–ian industrio-rock. (Maybe JC's been taking notes from the Neptunes recently, after all.) "Some Girls (Wanna Dance With Women)" aims for Prince's Dirty Mind and ends up at a Girls Gone Wild shoot. All very sad, since JC is possibly a better artist—and certainly a better singer—than J. Timbo, never relying on stolen Michael Jackson–isms when unsure what to do with a song. (Though the shouty "rock" choruses of a lot of the album don't do Chasez any favors.) But Schizophrenic's failure can be chalked up to the fact that a phalanx of zeitgeist-reading song doctors would have been a smarter idea than any amount of "breakout individualism," bruised egos be damned. JESS HARVELL
Kill Rock Stars Compilation 2: Tracks and Fields
(Kill Rock Stars)
One of my favorite things about Kill Rock Stars' most recent comp is that I knew almost nothing about several of the best songs. One of my other favorite things is that I knew a lot about some of the others. The Olympia label has done a great service by throwing together indie stalwarts and underground ought- to-bes and presenting them as a scene. Although I now know I should've been familiar with the Legend! (aka Everett True, one-time Seattleite and editor of the magazine Careless Talk Costs Lives), I wasn't until I heard the double-disc set's leadoff track. Although "I'm Not Like That" was recorded in 2002, his U.K. band hit their relatively under-the-radar stride in the '80s after theirs was the first record released by Creation—and it was universally panned. Twenty years later, they've recovered just fine; fans of vintage Bush Tetras will likely agree. Sleetmute Nightmute's "Walking Backwards" is a contorted no-wave noise smashup; I had no idea such things were taking place in Portland. Speaking of stalwarts, the C Average track is actually named "Stalwart," and our own Biography of Ferns and Shoplifting each throw in a variant from the growing Northwest strain of art-punk, but the latter's is unfortunately a piss-poor live recording. And then there's the requisite Superchunk song, plus a Devendra Banhart demo and a track by Male Slut featuring Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley. Culling KRS bands and bands that KRS just happens to like, the comp is 41 previously unreleased tracks ripe for discovery—or rediscovering. L.C.
DJ OLIVE THE AUDIO JANITOR
"Illbient"—the term and the music both—is up there with wearing your clothes backward and NAFTA as far as bad '90s ideas go. Like a new chef over-spicing a soup, post-everything "omni-genres" tend to end up flavorless gruel. Except instead of first-year line cooks, illbient's mid-'90s architects were passing themselves off as master gourmets, stirring then-painfully hip ingredients jungle, trip-hop, and experimental electronica into a shapeless post-B-boy bouillabaisse. The very post-authorially named New York trio We were better than most of their peers, their albums As Is and Decentertainers more physical grit-in-the-gears than "intelligent" wallpaper. Post-We, DJ Olive's solo Bodega proves that when this stuff works, it's because the focus is on the -bient rather than the ill-. Like Boards of Canada, Olive's hip-hop breaks are there strictly as ballast/propulsion for the mosaic of shifting textures. Structured as one long track (or a "journey," to get all DJ–speak on you), Bodega means to evoke that spectral moment around 4 a.m. when New York City (or any city, really) seems to be asleep, its citizens, even the criminals, all snug in their beds. Indigo skies are dotted with pale white street lamps. Garbage trucks rumble down alleyways. Power lines hum in sympathy. Taxis splash through puddles looking for the last stray drunks and clubbers. No "songs" (so passé, darling), but plenty of beguiling noises. If you're a day-sleeper, Bodega won't be of much use to you. But if you keep normal hours (or live in the suburbs), it's an often-beautiful evocation of the downtime of industrial society. J.H.