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Aural Report

You're still in winter, bucko
Apocalypse rock
by Kurt Dahlke

s February showing false signs of spring? Is there a downy warm waft to the breeze, some brief sun on your shoulders?

Well, according to the pagans, you're still in winter, bucko.

But that's no reason to be sad, because in the blink of an eye another 90 days of no rain will be upon us, days when the atmosphere around major arterials hints at the air quality of Mexico City (read: our near future). Fire up those barbecues!

Handsome Boy Modeling School: Love potential squandered at the Fez.

At this writing, our beloved NW Drizzle is doing its charming freezing act, figuratively warming the hearts of DIY cryogenics fanatics from Tigard to Troutdale. Shunners of popsicles might instead blow a few gaskets as seasonal affective disorder turns even the joys of being forced to sit on the couch watching sports and drinking beer into a grueling excursion of self-pity and ennui.

We reflect back on the annual holiday party – a chance to glory in debauched excess – while recharging the batteries for the January doldrums. Apropos the 2004 event, signs were rampant that this would be a hard winter.

The icy volumes of Aura (a cosmopolitan club that fair swallows the half-calculated, half-mad disinterest of puny Portlanders) first dazzles with coolness, and then I realize that it's still just us.

Gentlemen bodyguards, fit to cool ringside tempers circa 1948, mark the interior ingress to the more relaxed Fez Ballroom – but no matter which side of The Wall you're on, the illicit activities that make these events so special are snuffed, brutally and quickly.

This is one big reason that the love potential of Handsome Boy Modeling School is utterly squandered. The other being that, despite Dan the Automator's truly funk-tastic spins down the vinyl highway, Prince Paul's mere presence and the people-moving rhymes of Black Sheep's Dres on the mic, the set sucks.


Well, supposing some people just don't cotton to 65 percent of set-time being devoted to dopey audience-participation skits intended to make the proletariat feel special. Save that stuff for summer camp and make our asses move next time.

So now we're left to icily ponder doom (or doom rock, but not the kind you're thinking of). I hereby list my five favorite pieces of apocalypse in mostly-4/4 time.

Henley: Sounding the clarion of doom.

1. "Sunset Grill": Don Henley has tons of lowest-common-
denominator songwriting chops, so recognize and note that 1984's Building the Perfect Beast sets that Eagles-smooth against the oil-soaked burning of the American Dream.

Nice job, too, considering the use of synth-canned horns on "Sunset Grill," horns that still manage to swingingly sound the clarion of doom.

Park yourself on a bluff the next hot clean-air action day and let this one rip.

Way back when: Have the '70s become the new '50s?

2. "The Hustle": Is it that my '70s was a train wreck, or does a lot of this Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony happy-disco stuff mask a despairing melancholy so deep that not even snorting coke in a polyester leisure suit at Earthquake Ethel's can stanch the hidden flow of tears?

Do not those lilting string melodies backing the fluting of an insane leprechaun actually invoke minor-key, wistful thoughts of back-when-things-were-still-good?

Now we call those days the '70s; then, they were the '50s, and on until before the first ape was conked on the head by a rock.

The boys are back: Essential listening for when you think your best days are behind you.

3. "Suburbia": The Pet Shop Boys can't make it more explicit in their 12-inch version of this doom-rock masterpiece. Whining (or "whinging," as they say) evocations of aimless British schoolboys (I think) running with the dogs in suburbia are accompanied by barking sound effects and explosions, as ever-necessary horns chart their own sad story.

Essential listening for when you think your best days are behind you.

4. "Love's Theme": Wrangling an orchestra into watertight funk notwithstanding, Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra can't possibly be more ironic than on this track, a tireless schmaltzy circle of sweeping strings. That incessant wah-wah guitar will have your mom popping Valium again quicker than the words: "I want a divorce."

Blood, Sweat & Tears: Somewhere between a crying shame and what should have been.

5. "Lucretia MacEvil": Might as well end this list on a positive note. Positive, that is, for the eternally maligned Blood, Sweat & Tears – a petri-dish rock-and-swing outfit, part vaudeville, part Kool & the Gang – that should have followed the drug-rock muse and become a smashing powerhouse.

At least they left us "Lucretia MacEvil" which, while not truly a doom-rock song, has enough sexy sneering sass to slap you upside the head. Check the main riff for the zygotes of Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, then luxuriate in 32nd-note syncopation that hasn't appeared in the pop charts since, which is a crying shame.

And how's that for another crying shame, yours and mine, the time we've just shared ...

I go outside now to ice over alá Matt Johnson (for more great British doom-pop, check out Johnson's catalog as The The).

Hopefully I'll thaw out in time for next month's column.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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