New Music From Black Angels, Usher, Old 97’s

The Old 97's Blame It on Gravity (New West) "He was on her like she was a drug," sings Old 97's front man Rhett Miller on the band's seventh album. It sounds as though he's spent the four years since the most recent record cooling off, loving up...and switching intoxicants. "You're a bottlecap away from pushing me too far," he spat last time around. Blame It on Gravity is the Old 97's' flimsiest album, balancing the swoon-eyed wistfulness of Miller's dreamy solo records with the rest of the band's twangy manic shuffle. Cripes, the most menacing thing here is a quasi-tango called "Dance With Me" about girls with "flip-flop smiles." Most of the time the guys sound as though they're about ready to retire to time-shares in fluffy songs like "She Loves the Sunset" and "This Beautiful Thing." It all amounts to a sobering CD that downplays the group's usual locomotive drumming and stinging guitar lines. Get those bottlecaps ready. DAN WEISS The Old 97's play the Showbox in the Market, 1426 First Ave., $20 adv./$22 DOS, All ages. 8 p.m. Sat., June 14. The Black Angels Directions to See a Ghost (Light in the Attic) We're well into the dawn of the drone by now. That sultry guitar hum introduced to the punks by the Velvet Underground and blown out to the shoegazers by Spacemen 3 and the Jesus and Mary Chain has, in more recent years, attracted followings for everyone from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to Black Mountain. Done right, all that dilated-pupil distortion and melodramatic jangle makes for seductive pop with a sinister lining. Done poorly, it's monotonous music. The Black Angels were stuck in the latter camp on their debut, Passover, and their second disc, Directions to See a Ghost, shows only momentary spikes in the flatlining. Part of the problem is that we've heard all this before. The same couple of chords repeated ad nauseam, the avalanches of fuzz, the sleepy vocals—here they hold neither the danger nor the romance of their predecessors. Heavy guitars alone aren't enough to send listeners' brain cells into a centrifuge, especially when Black Angels don't sound as if there's anything lurking below the surface of this Ghost except a desire to play it safe. A notable exception to the lukewarm fare is "18 Years," an intoxicating come-on that'll electrify the hair on your neck with lines like "She's got control of you, and you love it." It's the moment the Black Angels' subdued sound becomes sublime. Elsewhere, though, "Deer-Ree-Shee" and "Vikings" are examples of stoner rock for art-school crowds. If only the Black Angels would make good on their claim to really "bomb you 'til Tuesday" instead of continuing to lay this state of monodrone. JENNIFER MAERZ The Black Angels play Neumo's, 925 E. Pike St., $15. 7 & 10:30 p.m. Wed., June 11. Usher Here I Stand (LaFace/Sony BMG) You really can't fault entertainers who claim "playa for life" status. At least they're being honest; everyone from Rod Stewart to video-performer-turned-tell-all-author Karrine "Superhead" Steffans knows the promiscuous can't be reformed. Once you get a taste of the easy-lovin', high-livin' lifestyle, it's almost impossible to let go. That's what made Usher's last album, Confessions, so interesting. He essentially admitted he was the cheater and scumbag former lover Steffans and others had accused him of being. But his follow-up finds the singer a married father, and he confesses to little more than cybercruising. "I'm chatting, this ain't cheating, just telling myself a lie," he sings on "Appetite." Rest assured, though, he will "bend them a bit, but never break the rules." Suuuuuure. Elsewhere on the CD, Usher leaves the debauchery to, whose stale, crass "What's Your Name" will hopefully mark the end of that Black Eyed Pea's era, and to Jeezy and Weezy, whose verses on the two versions of "Love in This Club" somehow don't ruin a true monster of a track. The latter is the kind of song that makes you almost forgive Here I Stand's blatant disingenuousness while whetting your appetite for Confessions II. BEN WESTHOFF

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