Out There

Everything Sucks
Epitaph Records

Call it charisma. Or attitude. Whatever it is, it is essential to the role of frontman. Milo Aukerman has it, but when he left the Descendents to pursue a career in biochemistry, he took it with him. For eight years, the band (renamed "All" in Aukerman's absence) went through a series of vocalists who paled in comparison.

Everything Sucks marks the return of Aukerman to music, and the return of the band's nerdcore dramas' central character. The album picks up where 1987's classic All left off, featuring the same caffeinated odes to food and girls that the band has been playing since the era of Reaganomics. Sixteen songs are crammed into the album's 31 minutes; not a second is wasted. From the opening blast to the closing quasisurf instrumental, guitarist Stephen Eggerton, bassist Karl Alvarez, and drummer Bill Stevenson belt out monster Beatles-on-speed hooks, a perfect complement to the emotional strain of Aukerman's vocals.

"I'm The One" picks up on one of the recurring themes of Descendents-All records: unrequited love. Over chain-saw riffing, Aukerman spouts off more cliches than a fistful of Valentine's Day cards, but the cracking in his voice makes them not only bearable, but believable. Here's hoping Aukerman won't go back to the lab this time.

Throwing Muses
Rykodisc Records

Fans know what to expect from the Throwing Muses: cryptic, hallucinatory lyrics, subversive song structure, strange beats, and--most importantly--singer-guitarist Kristin Hersh's hypnotic and seductively smoky voice, implausibly coming from the seemingly innocent, pixieish woman pictured inside.

That voice has always been the centerpiece of Throwing Muses. It stands out, not only for its quirky, sexual quality, but also for the convoluted images conveyed by the lyrics it sings; it's tough to decide whether to be turned on or scared. Hersh has long contended that she doesn't write songs, songs write her, and lines like "Pack the truck under the moon/Jesus Christ my lips are red" ("Cowbirds") make that easy to believe.

Hersh has toned down her attack, finding on her well-received 1994 solo record Hips and Makers that she can accomplish more by whispering than shouting and that a guitar doesn't have to always be loud and distorted to set a mood. That's not to say Throwing Muses don't rock out anymore; when they want to, they can still pack a punch better than most of the girls-with-guitars groups around.

--Zac Crain