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Reviews part two 

Shalini Metal Corner (Dalloway Records)

If you've been moping about your flat ever since Liz Phair took her most recent trip down to Sell Out with Your Pop Out-Ville late last year thanks to the help of The Matrix hit machine and a little too-fabulous VH1 video, your worry ends here. Metal Corner--the second album from former Vinyl Devotion siren Shalini Chatterjee, her husband and power-pop auteur Mitch Easter and former Let's Active drummer Eric Marshall--is a twelve-hits, no-misses paradise of open-road, top-down pop songs built on fuzz-tone guitars and Cheap Trick rock 'n' roll negligee well worth your time.

Shalini is a stand-out, a vocalist that sings with a charming naiveté and childishness, although--as a songwriter--she has the rare capability to sound chipper while remembering that it was love and a couple of bad boys who tried to leave gigantic chips on her shoulders in the first place. She ruminates over love lost for most of the album's dozen tracks, pleading "You're the one too far to see/Are you just eluding me?" during the perfect "Light of Fallen Objects." But she doesn't give up: she fights back with plenty of fist-in-the-air attitude and grrl rock sass, singing "You thought you had me all along/You were wrong, I'm a heartbreaking machine." The songs run with the hook-heavy wonder of '70s album rock, but this band sounds as though they're building on their forebears--imagine something of an Anglicized Puffy AmiYumi--rather than just ripping off select predecessors like T. Rex, AC/DC and Deep Purple.

And Easter's production is flawless, giving Shalini's voice and his own guitar enough room to supply the songs with punch and staying power, all the while sneaking in his penchant for subtlety behind simplicity at every verse (see the anti-riffs and the swirling guitar noise that penetrate "Secret Cats"). Move over Liz Phair. You've been exiled by a 12-string bass player with a last name that probably befuddles you. --Grayson Currin

Shalini plays Kings with Jeff Hart and The Ruins and Tim Lee on June 17.

Southern Culture on the Skids Mojo Box (Yep Roc Records)

As Gomer Pyle would say, "Shazam!" It's the new Southern Culture record, and there's much to love in the diverse selection of songs herein. While S.C.O.T.S. stays busy touring largely outside this area, Rick Miller's Kudzu Ranch studio is a busy haven for both local and national musicians to lay down their tracks. The cuts on Mojo Box are exemplary of many of the band's primary influences: twangy rockers, surf guitar, Wanda Jackson-styled rockabilly and the album's hoodoo theme. By expanding their stylistic range from sheer reverence to include heartfelt numbers like "I Want a Love," a garage band stomper with some Jerry Lee ivory-tinkling, and "Soulful Garage," with Mary Huff's warm lead vocal, S.C.O.T.S. shows off a tender side underplayed on previous records.

Don't worry, though, there is plenty of stuff to run alongside humorous food songs like the vintage "Eight Piece Box," with the hot rod anthem "'69 El Camino," the reverb-ed surf instro "The Wet Spot" and, of course, an ode to trailer life in "Doublewide." Two well-chosen covers, "Biff Bang Pow," originally by '60s pioneers The Creation, and "Fire of Love," made famous by The Gun Club, are great additions to this eclectic mix. On "Where is the Moon?" the band harmonizes over a slow-tempo ballad like country pop crooners. Mojo Box is a fine addition to the S.C.O.T.S. collection, and one that will remind listeners of the group's skill as musicians over their well-known flair for the outrageous and comical. --Chris Toenes

The Talk It's Like Magic in Reverse ... (MoRisen Records)

Listening to The Talk's new album, you'll want to ask what business these British expatriates have in Charlotte. The quartet, of course, doesn't hail from across the pond, but their sound sure does, drawing from the furious, pumping pace of '70s English punkers such as The Buzzcocks, Vapors and Vibrators.

Caustic, observant critics of the world around them, they unleash heartening thoughts like, "As far as I see our lives here are diseased and fake/You all should feel ashamed and plagued/Your deaths won't be enough" (off "Imaginary Lines"), or "This human race ain't all that great, so why do we fake it, let's face it/It's not all about you and me girl" (from "Science Don't Mean Shit").

And when the world fails to inspire their dark wit, they're able to turn out "Good Songs" about the very craft they're engaged in, singing "Not even getting high can give me butterflies like masterpieces, classic pop releases." Such lyrical playfulness is matched by the fast, furious and fun guitar attack, which bubbles with the childlike enthusiasm and energy of a three year old on a sugar buzz. Definitely worth checking out.

--Chris Parker

The Talk plays Local 506 on Sunday, June 20, with The Sames and The Standard.

Rock Star Scientist Rock Star Scientist (Omega-Tunage Records)

If a record is to be judged on whether or not it does what it set out to do, the three-movement eponymous debut from the local prog collective Rock Star Scientist is nearly perfect. "An instrumental that redefines the boundaries of music and sound by combining: 1-sci-fi 2-acid jazz and 3-prog rock," writes the band's founder and electronic-championing frontman Eric Rissolo by way of the disc's introduction.

Though recreation may be a bit of an overstatement for this first launch into the musical lunar landscape, Rock Star Scientist is certainly a step forward in the fusion of prog and jazz, establishing Rissolo as a capable composer and one of the most daring piano and synthesizer players that is up for the challenge these days. On the opening "Apollo," he masters the gorgeous sort of synth-and-key melodies and atmospherics that earned The Flaming Lips a Grammy in 2002, though he drives shards of McCoy Tyner's playing from A Love Supreme into hysterics during "Brain Check" as Jay Rusnak muses like a Beat-era, passive/aggressive Robert Fripp just behind the mix. Rissolo--who wrote, engineered, recorded, produced and mixed the tracks himself--is a local phenom worthy of attention.

Despite his memorable performance and irrepressible flair, though, the ensemble around him often doesn't rise to the occasion, settling for slightly hesitant playing that seems to lack confidence in the frontman's otherwise remarkable vision. Six minutes into the closing epic "Oblivion," the band pounds its way somewhere near transcendence, but the unit refuses to turn the knobs to eleven, never mustering the conviction to believe that they are doing anything more than playing an extended, even if searing, version of a Rush head. Scott Carle's drumming seems cold, clinging toward some detached rock coolness instead of letting the explosions happen where they may. Such an abandon is the staple that gives the current pool of King Crimson-devotees (see Particle) its life force.

If Rissolo can find a unit with a passion tantamount to his own, he's set. If not, he should be able to manage a career making the sort of left-of-center pop albums that Dave Fridmann (the aforementioned Lips, Mercury Rev, Elf Power) has made his hallmark. --Grayson Currin

Plan B Chlorine Dreams (Animal Thug)

Plan B, a Triangle-area hip-hop group, brings together interesting, simple beat arrangements and production with their MCs working through a range of lyrical topics. While they include a heavy metal guitar riff on "The Church," a boastful cut asserting their skills (i.e. taking listeners and competing rappers "to church"), the predominant sound throughout Chlorine Dreams is one of simple, crisp beats underneath a set of MCs that rap with frequent interplay between one another. "The Rising Son" works with piano and mid-tempo beats shuffling along at an even keel. On "Burn the House," they shout through a party vibe of click pulses. Plan B even mixes quick delivery with the occasional female vocal. By keeping things down primarily to beats and voice, bereft of many samples, the wordplay flows on its own accord. It's a good first record for a fledgling group, with basic ideas being sketched out in broad strokes. --Chris Toenes

Plan B are performing live in the area on a regular basis now, with an upcoming show as part of the Sunday Showcase at the Cat's Cradle on Sunday, June 20. Saunter Saunter (Walkingman Music)

Just a few years ago, Matthew Davis' Saunter was an aspiring jam band with Widespread Panic inclinations. Davis, though, decided he didn't have the guitar wherewithal to make it in the land of dancing bears and spinning mushrooms, so he put the group on standby while he regrouped as a guitarist and refocused as a songwriter. After significant lineup changes and some close attention to the melodic minutiae of The Police and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Saunter is back, playing songs about "serious mind-altering drugs" and damsels that make Davis "hear my heart singing," something like Raleigh's own West Coast fraternity outfit. His new songwriting approach works, and--at last--the band's instrumental improvisation has its chance to make interesting statements by recognizing brevity as the asset. Brian Buzby's saxophone licks are on point and driving, and Davis' experimentation with noise to open "Missing In Action" is as smart as it is surprising.

Given that, you would expect the recording to be funky and sweaty, full of dirt and playful, conscious missteps. But that's where this one falls short. Saunter sounds more like Pseudopod's semi-sterile debut than Hobex's dirty and brilliant U Ready Man? Recorded under the perhaps too careful ear of John Custer (Corrosion of Conformity, DAG), this isn't quite the steamy soul-stirring soup it should be. Instead, it's starched and bleached oxford cloth in a world of backbeats and sax riffs where sweat-soaked cotton is the real avenue to transcendence. --Grayson Currin

Saunter plays its sole local gig for a month or more at Pantana Bob's in Chapel Hill on Thursday, June 17.

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