Though often compared to Joy Division, Public Image and The Fall, Baltimore's Wilderness owes as much to such pioneers of American weirdness as Zappa, Beefheart and Dave Thomas of Pere Ubu. This year's Vessel States doesn't differ significantly from last year's self-titled debut: Plodding and not a little pretentious, the quartet's sound somehow manages to be both endearing and annoying, quite often within the same song. Singer James Johnson's theatrical mode almost overwhelms the proceedings, but lengthy songs like "Fever Pitch" and "Beautiful Alarms" feature just enough inventive guitar interplay along with a sturdy rhythm section to keep his theoretical musings in check. And when things click, as on the morose "Death Verses" where Johnson's tortured yowl matches the lyrics (the foreboding chant "the death verses equal entertainment"), Wilderness proves itself among the best of '70s and '80s post-punk lovers.
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Not dissimilar are openers Year Future, a San Diego group that sounds like Scratch Acid tortured by androids in a nuclear fallout shelter. Brooklyn trio Parts & Labor rounds out a triple dandy, toting their latest album Stay Afraid which nestles tantalizing melodies within an engine-driven cyclone of skree.