"Spot the Difference," the new album by one of L.A.'s most eccentric combos, TUPELO CHAIN SEX (on Selma Records), combines revolutionary politics with revolutionary sounds. Chain Sex has a mix-and-match cross-cultural approach, at times bordering on anarchy as it combines elements of psycho-billy, reggae dub, jump-swing jazz and salsa. What's surprising is how cohesively this group pieces its jagged musical jigsaw pieces together: It's weird, but it works.
Chain Sex leader Limey Dave won't win any vocal honors, but this character's raspy, over-the-edge ranting is balanced by a series of inventive, cinematic sound collages. The record starts off with a psychotic updated story of '40s pothead icon Willie the Weeper, set to a huarache-stompin' pseudo-rhumba. There's the cool reggae sway of "The Revolution Will Be Televised," the punkified, Fear-like reworking of "America" from "West Side Story," the gentle jazz shuffle of "Our Lady of Hollywood," and veteran violinist Sugarcane Harris' nasty, drug-ridden rocker, "Dr. Nightcall." As bitingly satirical and musically inventive as vintage Frank Zappa, more relevant than Malcolm McLaren's trendy cultural pirating, Tupelo Chain Sex's musical provocations show its heart belongs to Dada.
You can almost feel the motor oil and grease in the grooves of the new EP (on Pee Vee Records) by the D.I.'s. Produced by X's Billy Zoom, this rockabilly-metal-punk roar is tailor-made for a rowdy, beer-guzzling party. With a wall-of-guitar sound resembling a hundred Link Wrays at a rocking rumble, The D.I.'s celebrate what made America grungy but great: surfin', driving', fast cars, fast women. More enlightened, refined types might object to the sexism of the heavy metal-like cover (not to mention songs like "(She's a) Hot Bitch"). But the D.I.'s are like junk food or a good grade-B movie--bad taste that's irresistible.
EDDIE AND THE SUBTITLES' new album is "Dead Drunks Don't Dance" (13th Story Records), but a more apt title would be "Dead Junkies Don't Dance." Starting with a pretty nifty bit of white-boy R&B;, "Shoot Up and Dance," nearly every song on this record has a reference to drugs, specifically heroin. Eddie Subtitle tries to glamorize the desperate romance and pathos of junkies, but he doesn't have the dry, poetic vision of Lou Reed or the thrashy musical panache of Johnny Thunders. Throw in a nasty, homophobic "joke" song, some pointless or obvious cover songs ("If I Had a Hammer," the Stones' "Connection") and you have a group attempting all styles, mastering few. This band's bad habits aren't all drug-related.
POP ART's new Stonegarden EP is filled with chiming folk-pop that has a sweet, poignant charm. Simple, melodic and unaffected, the group's sound expresses a kind of post-adolescent ache, singer Dave Steinhart projecting a sensitive (though hardly wimpy) vulnerability. A bit like R.E.M. (though you can understand every word), this unassuming, resonant group has made a promising debut.
THE STEPPES bear some similarity to Pop Art. Both groups are led by brothers, and both bands employ '60s-flavored folk-rock strains. But compared to Pop Art's straightforward, gentle simplicity, the Steppes mini-LP (Mystic Records) has more ambitious concerns. There's a level of genuine anger in "Nobody's Fault" and the mini-epic "No Names Yet for Henry," a bitter indictment of social hypocrisy that builds momentum with layers of fuzz-tone guitars buzzing like angry mosquitoes. Though the group sometimes veers a bit too close to a kind of Moody Blues bombast, at this point the Steppes have the taste (or is it the lack of recording budget?) to avoid being pretentious.
The GRAVE DIGGER V fit the garage-band milieu perfectly-- maybe a bit too perfectly, since this San Diego group, like the one-hit-wonder bands it idolizes, broke up right after finishing its debut album, "All Black and Hairy" (Voxx Records). Starting with its weirdo title song (an obscure tune by Screamin' Lord Sutch), the Gravedigger V shovel the garage- band dirt with uncanny precision, with singer Leighton's snotty, snarly vocals in the best Sky Saxon tradition. Yes, the band is all derivation, recycling instead of innovating, but groups like this are as essentially teen-age and exciting as the '60s models they emulate (and often surpass). The style might be old, but the zest these cartoonish, primitive revisionists generate is totally hear and now.