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Chef Menteur
We Await Silent Tristero's Empire
(Back Porch Revolution)

In Thomas Pynchon's novel The Crying of Lot 49, the word "WASTE," written on seemingly innocent trash cans, was revealed to stand for the same phrase these prog-rockers used to title their first full-length studio recording. In the novel, the phrase was part of a complex conspiracy that was laboriously explored but never satisfactorily solved -- in the traditional sense. Instead, suspicion, subtle paranoia and layers of possible meaning that floated through the plot were laid out for the reader, sometimes coming together to create small solutions to the larger puzzle, sometimes not. It was a confusing and unsatisfying book.

What this has to do with the record is that Chef Menteur has created a sonic text here similar, in a lot of ways, to Pynchon's literary one. Layers of sound -- sculpted by as much traditional instrumentation as electronic effects -- create a trancelike, ambient wash that's often lovely, but not necessarily cohesive. The two core members of Chef Menteur, Alex Vance and Jim Yonkus, are known for being relentless tinkerers with their sound, and the album is, according to the liner notes, a collection of "psychedelic improvisations and lo-fi experiments."

The standout track, "W.A.S.T.E.," nudges the listener out of a trance-drenched fog with staccato electronic beats that dissolve into a wash of acoustic guitar and dulcimer on top of what sounds like barely discernible human chatter. For those who like their space-rock lulling the whole way through, the album might fare better without the 17-minute closing track, "Io." The dissonant, crashing experimental sound is a rude awakening after a long, pleasant psychedelic naptime. -- Alison Fensterstock

Supagroup
Rules
(Foodchain)

Supagroup is best thought of as a hard rock band, not a metal band. The difference? Supagroup would rather steal your beer and your girlfriends than prove how hard it is.

That sort of cad behavior is all over Rules, the band's latest release. On "Bastard," singer Chris Lee admits, "I'm a bastard / from way back when"; "I'm Gonna Change," the obligatory power ballad, starts with, "I'm gonna change / I'm gonna put that bottle down / for a while. / Found me a good woman / gonna stop my fooling around / for a while." There and throughout the album, the songs show a wiseass sense of humor, but are never jokes. It might be funny to hear a band sing how "Ruling is its own reward" on its second national album, but Supagroup performs it as if the band is headlining arenas nightly.

You don't have to get any of that to enjoy Rules, though. The pleasures are simple, classic, rock 'n' roll pleasures. Benji Lee's guitar is big, crunchy and fast as hell in the solos, and the choruses are so immediate that you'll sing along to "It Takes Balls," "Hog Wild" and "Let's Go (Get Wasted)" whether you want to or not. That might sound a little boneheaded, but just because the songs don't express existential angst doesn't mean they aren't smart. The flash, the jokes and the bad attitude obscure the amount of craft involved. It's more accurate to think of Rules as focused on life's most basic pleasures. -- Alex Rawls

Joe Krown Organ Combo
Livin' Large
(independent)

Over the past five years, a new generation of Hammond B-3-driven funk bands has evolved out of New Orleans. The best representatives are Papa Grows Funk, Ivan Neville's Dumpsta Phunk and the Joe Krown Organ Combo, and the music is a new stream, outside the long-standard influence of the Jimmys -- Smith and McGriff. It's music inspired by and linked to Booker T and the MGs, the Meters and the Crusaders (included here is a cover of Joe Sample's "My Mama Told Me"). It is instrumental music, but it's compactly designed in the manner of what used to be called radio-friendly pop tunes.

Livin' Large is Krown's second organ combo release, and judging from the growth this concept is exhibiting, my guess is that he's going to emphasize this band as his best shot at a career move. This time around, Krown's arrangements are tighter, better focused and feature saxophonists Brent Rose and Brian "Breeze" Cayolle. Rose, who contributes slick "Uncle Tio" to the set, has an R&B-influenced, Eddie Harris-like sound well suited to this style. Krown, who writes most of the tracks, has a knack for constructing songs around catchy melodic hooks such as the title track, "Slow Daddy," "Under the Influence" and the languid funk of "Dame Dreaming."

The band's interaction is clockwork steady, with Brint Anderson's burnished guitar tones adorning the arrangements and busting out with gorgeous fills and phrases, and Mike Barras keeping it all tight to the vest on the drums. These songs are blueprints for extended live improvisation, but there's something to be said for the concise nature of their bare bones elements. -- John Swenson

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