Sink hole, uh

Austin's great alt-rock hope swings for the empty bleachers

If one were to design an ideal new rock band for the current alternative Zeitgeist, one couldn't do much better than Austin's Sincola. This co-ed, multi-ethnic, democratic quintet includes women both gay and straight, and at least one guy (hetero) who's been known to wear a dress and even drop trou on stage at the drop of a hat. And their music is equally embracing, a passionate mixture of punkish aggression and pop appeal where the guitars alternately chime, shriek, and power chord; the bass slips into the edges of funk; and the drums drive it all along explosively.

Sincola plays music you can mosh to, dance to--or merely stand and listen to while their sylphid, bug-eyed singer Rebecca Cannon prowls the stage like some mutant combination of Chrissie Hynde and Squeaky Fromme, spitting out songs that straddle the razor's edge dividing sensuality and violence.

Until Sincola, no band had risen more quickly and forcefully from the Austin alternative scene--one that has yet to yield even one of those modern-rock buzz bands that have cropped up like a plague of weeds, sending record company A&R executives scrambling for their checkbooks to add more zeros to their advance offers. Despite Austin's highly vaunted ambitions as a music capital, despite the fact it has long overshadowed Dallas as Texas' premier music town in the eyes of the national media even though Dallas has sent more bands to major labels in the past three years, the last time Austin spawned a moderately successful so-called alternative band was in the late '80s...with Poi Dog Pondering.

Sincola, from the moment they first played in front of a live audience less then two years ago, promised to provide that one thing Austin has desperately needed for almost a decade--a bright new thing, the Next Big Thing. Since forming in 1993, Sincola quickly won favor with both Austin's hipsters and its high schoolers, released an EP on the canny upstart Rise Records label, landed a tune ("Bitch") in regular rotation on Austin's modern-rock radio outlet K-NACK (KNNC-FM), and appeared on a slew of local artist compilations. The New York-based independent Caroline Records snatched up the group, making the same kind of noise about long-term commitment and development that the major labels do, and put them into Austin's Arlyn Studios with producer Brian Beattie (ex of defunct Austin darlings Glass Eye) for the band's first real album.

The result, What The Nothinghead Said, is an amazing piece of work. Sincola has crafted a disc that eschews, perhaps even subverts, the trends sweeping through so-called female-fronted modern rock--the sing-song pop underneath the music of the Breeders or Belly or even Veruca Salt, the loud and dirty post-punk of Hole or Babes in Toyland. Sincola probably has more in common with the angular new wave of Romeo Void or Gang of Four; the music is heavy, filled with unexpected shifts and turns in melody and rhythm, catchy and dense all at once.

And the lyrics, which Cannon sings like she's chewing on a snake and spewing out the venom, are the sort of nightmarish, twisted stuff of which William Burroughs might approve. From an opening whisper about "circumcision," the images tumble out with a pungent, chilling effect: "I've got a secret in a box beneath my head / It contains the severed tongue of every lover I've ever had" (from "Bitch," the would-be single); "My girlfriend / She sits on the toilet reading magazines / What she reads leaves a stain beneath her" ("Girlfriend"). In "Hey Artemis," Cannon tells of disappearing into her television set only to have a friend change the channel; the same song also contains a line about a friend who "has this father [who] used to, like, visit her late at night, but not in a Dr. Seuss way, you know what I mean?"

The album enjoyed a more than respectable sales surge in the band's hometown when released earlier this year, moving briskly out of the doors of such University of Texas-area stores as Sound Exchange and Tower Records. The disc received a handful of national reviews, and Caroline Records initially shipped about 8,000 copies of Nothinghead--a tiny figure, though respectable enough in indie terms. (By contrast, during the heyday of former Austin would-be heroes True Believers, the band was considered a total wash if it didn't move more than 25,000 albums.)

But Sincola's local buzz has tapered off astonishingly and surprisingly quickly; the album has fallen far down the local record-store sales charts. And now it appears that nothing more is to happen with Austin's latest--and, for now, best--rock hope. And once more, history repeats itself like a needle stuck in a record's groove, success eluding another Austin band that truly deserves it.

One reason why Sincola has been so silent can be found lying on her back in her bedroom in one of a thousand typically battered Austin band houses, this one on the fringes of the city's ethnic East Side. Drummer Terri Lord is slowly recovering from back surgery inside this house, and her convalescence was responsible for putting live shows on hold just as Sincola's album was hitting the streets. Since they can't share the stage right now, her fellow bandmembers settle for gathering around Lord on her bed.

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