*** L7, "Bricks Are Heavy", Slash

Right now, L7 is the hardest-rocking live band in Los Angeles, routinely compelling the sort of slam-pit action that hasn't been seen locally since the glory days of Black Flag. It's the first all-female band to sing as if its gender were irrelevant, and it's among the most politically active bands in town. It's probably also the only band whose T-shirts are worn both by Faster Pussycat and Fugazi. L7 rocks, hard.

But on "Bricks Are Heavy," its third album overall and its major-label debut, the edges have been rounded off, the dirt of its sound wiped clean, the plaster and lath of its songwriting and musicianship stripped clear of its hazy scrim of grunge.

It's hard to avoid thinking that L7 is perhaps less well served by producer Butch Vig's squeaky-clean garage-band aesthetic than was fellow Sub Pop alumnus Nirvana--where Nirvana is, one suspects, a pop band at heart, L7 is a rock band, less like the Byrds than like the MC5, less about pop craft than about sheer aggression. The last thing L7 needs is to sound like a girl group, which it does sometimes here.

And where "Bricks Are Heavy" is a very good, sometimes brilliant hard-rock album, nothing quite comes up to the inspired level of 1990's "Shove," one of the best rock singles of the decade so far.

New albums are rated on a scale of one asterisk (poor) to four (excellent).

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