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Three left feet

Eight Track Demos
Jump Rope Girls
One Ton Records

At the end of 1997, Spin asked a slew of pop hipsters the question that seems to crop up every week or so: "Is rock dead?" Based on the dubious mainstream success of Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers, electronica had already begun to take root, allowing contrived, banal rock songs to be embellished by a dated house beat and become well, contrived, banal electronica songs (see: Garbage, Filter, any soundtrack released in the last in three years). Still, some former rockers were able to fuse rock with electronica without sounding like they were trying too hard. The tomorrowpeople--made up of former members of Brutal Juice and the Toadies--fluidly combined the best of dream pop with techno-lite synth moves, resulting in 1997's stellar, fence-straddling debut Golden Energy, an album that cleared a space in the rock clubs for a dance floor.

On Eight Track Demos, the debut CD from local outfit Jump Rope Girls (which features keyboardist Bobby Maloney, programmer Don Relyea, and Doosu singer-guitarist Casey Hess), the band takes a running leap onto the electronica bandwagon, which is tricky, especially since the wagon left two years ago. It seems Hess and company finally found the instruction manual to their sampler, but they still don't know how to do much with it. While the tomorrowpeople debuted with an ambitious, streamlined alloy of pop-rock-techno, the equally ambitious Jump Rope Girls fail to execute their debut with such prettiness or precision, substituting tired grooves for golden energy.

When they try to rock, the Jump Rope Girls recall White Zombie, yet they're too wimpy to really pull it off, so they end up somewhere around Def Leppard as produced by Trent Reznor. Other times, the group switches gears and does a song like "Forgetting How" (to sound original, possibly), Hess doing his best Perry Farrell impression while the band does its high school talent-show version of Jane's Addiction. The rest of the disc alternates between buzzing techno-schlock hybrids and overweening, sparse acoustic numbers such as "Looking for Mothers" and "Jets and Magic," which aim at being plaintive, message-bearing folk and end up more like Pearl Jam minus the angst or the urgency. "Through the IV" is a foreboding electronic track that lifts the mood (and the bass line) from Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead" and everything else from Joy Division.

Occasionally, Eight Track Demos almost coaxes you into letting your guard down, offering several promising song intros, false starts you wish they would turn into meaningful or catchy songs. But the album suffers from the lack of ability to make you want to shake anything except your head, instead sinking under the weight of Garbage hammered in with Nine Inch Nails. Who cares if rock is so dead it's decaying? Just don't let it stink up the studio.

--Jessica Elise Parker

 
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