Dallas got a big helping of plastic pop last week, when No Doubt and the Faint brought their retrofitted robot rock to the Bronco Bowl, but those new wavers looking for a safer night out--hey, the Faint's first video just got banned by MTV, and Gwen Stefani's tank tops keep getting skimpier--might be better suited to the Bowl's bill Friday night, when the up-and-coming L.A. outfit Abandoned Pools opens for ProTools pioneers Garbage. Both bands work from the same template: Take mid-'90s alt-rock, ditch the four-guys-in-a-room vibe and replace it with the whirring and ticking of samplers and drum machines and effects boxes that make guitars sound like wind tunnels and smooth out any rough spots that remain.
Garbage man Butch Vig, who as a big-name producer helped invent mid-'90s alt-rock, has always assumed that his singer, the self-consciously dangerous Scottish woman Shirley Manson, was the rough spot in his immaculately engineered music--she cusses a lot and doesn't smile in publicity photos--yet the story that's unfolded over Garbage's three albums is Vig and his two old-guy studio buds using every trick in their manuals to squelch the sass Manson does exude when she's not trying too hard to scare us. Beautifulgarbage, the band's latest, overflows with those little diversions: a glistening Phil Spector wall of sound on "Can't Cry These Tears," "Untouchable" and "Androgyny"'s lithe Timbaland beats, the Siamese Dream-pop guitars in "So Like a Rose"--all designed to wrap around the listener's ears like warm cotton, insulating us from Manson and any human edge she might bring to the tunes. "Stupid Girl" was sarcastic, but not that sarcastic. And the difference between Vig and the guys in No Doubt, who stocked Rock Steady with plenty of their own non-Stefani bells and whistles? Name one of those dudes.
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Tommy Walter, whom an equal number of people could probably identify as the one dude in Abandoned Pools, sands down the danger on his debut, Humanistic, too. Like Vig, Walter comes to high-gloss studio-rock from something more organic--he played bass on the first Eels record, 1996's Beautiful Freak, but left just when that band decided to get truly weird. Humanistic is full of that kind of almost-strangeness: A Perfect Circle stickman Josh Freese plays drums, Paul Q. Kolderie and Sean Slade (who helmed Pablo Honey back when Radiohead kind of sucked) produce and Walter works out his post-Cobain angst in minor-key dirges that always bubble up into choruses perfect for overexcited fist-pumping. An ideal respite from the black leather and exposed midriffs, then, and just in time.