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All Time Low
R.S.R. Records

This Denton foursome, made up of former members of Junebug and still kicking three years into its heroically obscure career, doesn't quite know what it wants to be; Check has all the direction of a blind man on the Tilt-A-Whirl, so it just plays shit it likes. Which means boogie-rock masquerading as punk (the title track), technopop masquerading as punk ("Bucket of Sand"), country-rock masquerading as punk ("Bottle Nine"), and so on down the lo-fi assembly line until they cover all the bases like Mark McGuire. Finally, the lack of cohesiveness is the only thing holding this ship together.

There's a reason Check (please) brought in Matt Pence and Brent Best to produce the debut--Legendary Crystal Chandelier producer Pence has the indie-rock cred, Slobberbone's Best has the country-punk rep, and both are old pros at making something out of everything using nothing at all. So you've got garage guitars and basement vocals, acoustic piano and electronic keyboards, and a whole bunch of everything else tossed into the garbage heap called rock and roll. Don't be misled by the Peter Schmidt-Will Johnson cameo that closes out All Time Low ("Standing in the Underworld"), but it's tempting to overrate this band nonetheless--if only because you liked it the first go-around, when it was known as the Replacements.

Take my ears, please

The Plebeians
The Plebeians
Carpe Diem Records

This is rock and roll for adults, meaning that even if the lyrics stick with you (singer-guitarist Greg Vanderpool tells a nice story and doesn't let the words get in the way), the music's too soft and chewy and without much flavor; atmosphere only gets you half the way home, especially if you don't have the melodies to start the car (either that, or it just sounds like everything else they play on KERA after 9 p.m.). The Plebeians' second disc (again, here's another band that's been around seven years, and who knew?) is all mood signifying only mood, and guest appearances by the likes of former True Believer Jon Dee Graham and forgotten teen idol Charlie Sexton only underscore the professionalism that went into this glum art-pop.

You want it to get better, because you know they care (you can especially hear it in Steven Patrick Collins' straining voice, which recalls Paul Young), but there's an awfully fine line between sincere and wimpy (Vanderpool alternately sounds like Peter Gabriel singing Phil Collins songs or Neil Finn imitating Bono) and just boring (learning how to play an instrument and then making this leaden music is like getting your driver's license and never leaving the garage). And on second thought, there are plenty of stories about grass fires and cracked sidewalks and empty fields and how this town isn't your town anymore and how "before there is blind, there has to be sight," and if it's all meant to be metaphor, well, maybe the words get in the way after all.

--Robert Wilonsky


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