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Magnificent seven
These overlooked bands speak to the depth of Bostonís musical talent
BY WILL SPITZ

ANYONE WHOíS paid attention to the local rock scene over the years knows that at any given moment, there are countless great artists and bands who somehow manage to fly beneath the radar of national record labels, media, and commercial and college radio. Some of the cityís best music goes unnoticed even right here in town, and as a result, potential fans remain unaware of a wealth of excellent music in their own back yard. Thatís not to say thereís a shortage of bands hyped as "the next big thing to come out of Boston," usually on the basis of the right connections, good management, lucky timing, actual talent, or some combination of all four. Still ó despite the best intentions and much heartache ó music from the good to the great gets overlooked. Hereís a sampling of artists and bands who have what it takes to make it. These seven arenít representative of the music scene ó what small sampling could be? ó but theyíre notable and deserve to move on to better things.

AM STEREO: PRE-ALTERNATIVE JANGLE-PUNK FOR THOSE WHO MISS THE GOLDEN AGE OF COLLEGE RADIO

Lawyers, architects, administrators, and family men by day, AM Stereo pull the olí Bruce Banner and transform into a drunken, rockiní Hulk of a band at night. Once labeled by a friend as "disaster rock," the bandís sound is a testament to the membersí long-running love affair with the sort of loose, jangly, post-punk, pre-alternative college-radio rock of the 1980s and early 1990s purveyed by the likes of Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, Dinosaur Jr., and Superchunk. However, this sound varies slightly from song to song as bassist Steve Crotty, guitarist Brooke Fletcher, and guitarist Jeff Ahearn take turns playing frontman. All three have distinct voices and songwriting styles: the high-pitched Crotty is the most sensitive, penning slower, more melodic, and carefully crafted songs; the howling Fletcher seems to have the greatest punk-rock sensibility, writing songs that are more raucous; and the nasal-voiced Ahearnís tunes fall somewhere in between, ranging from gentle to riotous. This is not to say that AM Stereoís music is uneven; rather, the three members complement each other like an indie-rock Lennon and McCartney.

Ahearn, Crotty, and drummer Gino Zanetti played together in Crazy Alice in the mid í90s. Crazy Alice recruited Crotty the way the Pixies found Kim Deal: through an ad in the Classifieds section of this very paper. However, rather than looking for a "woman bassist to sing harmony with male lead vocal" with Peter, Paul & Mary and Hüsker Dü as influences, Crazy Alice were looking merely for a bass player to play "like a wounded badger." Crotty got the job apparently because he was the only person to audition who bothered to learn any of the songs. During Crazy Aliceís subsequent disintegration, Ahearn met Fletcher while playing pool at a bar. AM Stereo were born. Salem-based Intelligent Records released the bandís homonymous debut EP in 2000 and their first full-length, Suffocation Town, in 2001. The band are putting the finishing touches on a stellar 12-song album, on which theyíve been working for the past four years at Q Division Studios with Rafi Sofer and Ed Valauskas, and at the Outpost with Jim Siegel.

FRANK SMITH: COW-PUNK COLLECTIVE FOR THE LAZY DAYS

Houston transplant Aaron Sinclair doesnít speak with a Texas accent, but apparently he harbors one that lies dormant until he straps on an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. Frank Smith is the name of Sinclairís collective, which includes Eyes Like Knives frontman Scott Toomey on guitar, exĖStray Bullets drummer Drew Roach, Julian Cassanetti on keys, and Dan Burke on bass. Cassanetti and Burke are guitarist and bassist, respectively, for the Lot Six, for whom Sinclair himself drums. Sinclair began his Boston rock career as co-songwriter/singer/guitarist for the criminally underrated and overlooked band Drexel, whose forward-thinking, intelligent brand of punk rock boasted a small but intense cult following in New England. Drexel increasingly became a side project, however, as drummer Dave McWane was constantly on the road, fronting the successful punk/ska band Big D & the Kids Table, and the Lot Six began garnering national attention and touring as the supporting act for well-known bands such as the Distillers. Frank Smith, initially known as LaGuardia, became Sinclairís creative outlet. LaGuardia ó which included Toomey, Jon Lammi on bass, and Jesse Kramer, son of Aerosmith drummer Joey Kramer, on the skins ó recorded an album, which is being re-released by Lonesome Recordings under the Frank Smith moniker. The acoustic-based rock tunes could be classified as alt-country, but with more emphasis on "alt," as they retain some of the experimentation that permeated Drexelís music.

The latest Frank Smith offering, Burn This House Down, released this past summer on Lonesome, leans more to the country side of the spectrum; Sinclair lazily drawls over unusual chord progressions that somehow evoke a sort of false nostalgia for a home on the range that may not exist. This effect, in combination with world-weary lyrics such as "Sippiní on a little bit of misery, just enough to get by/Feeling like a white-bred Indian, living a big lie," from "Misery," often makes Sinclair seem like some sort of wizened hillbilly (heís in his late 20s). However, what is truly distinctive about the music is its tendency to take unexpected twists and turns, a songwriting technique that sets Frank Smith apart from similar bands, and one that Sinclair has been employing since his days with Drexel. "Misery" repeatedly modulates, always somehow managing to find the home key, and the rhythmically shifting ending is just one example of the little tricks Sinclair pulls out of his hat to keep listeners on their toes. While the Lot Six and Eyes Like Knives continue to tour, Frank Smith are recording a new album, engineered by Drexelís other creative half, Marc Flynn, at his home studio, 202 Lions.

LOCK AND KEY: SERIOUSLY SINCERE POST-HARDCORE

For any band who use familiarly thick power chords and deep, throaty vocal melodies, comparisons to post-hardcore groups like Hot Water Music are inevitable ó Lock and Key are not exactly navigating uncharted musical territories. But upon closer listening, it becomes clear this is not their aim. The bandís real strength lies in their deep earnestness. With each song that frontman Ryan Shanahan dedicates to a specific person or group of people at their impassioned live shows, and with every blood vessel that looks as if it could burst at any second, it becomes more apparent that he sincerely means every single word.

The bandís first release, an EP titled No Fate, was put out initially by the small local label Irresponsible Records, and was subsequently re-released by a bigger, North Carolina indie, Deep Elm. It provided a nice preview of what was to come on their full-length debut, Pull Up the Floorboards. The songs on Floorboards, released by Deep Elm this past Tuesday, seem to revolve around the theme of leaving behind some sort of fucked-up past and starting anew. "We have a choice/We can let it run us into ground or pick up and start again/I choose to stand stronger and learn from my mistakes," Shanahan bellows on "Process of Molting." On "Ammonia," he urges listeners to join him in starting over: "Letís forget about all weíve learned/Weíll learn to live like we used to when we were young/Extinction, extinction of the mind." Itís an interesting idea, to move forward by regressing. The albumís final track, ironically titled "Opening," marks the end of something much bigger than the album and signifies a rebirth. "Soil breaks, new life penetrates, and we move forward," the closing line goes.

Moving forward with their band is something the four guys in Lock and Key have been itching to do since they cut their musical teeth, playing in bands locally throughout high school and college. Shanahan and guitarist Mike Vera recently graduated and are finally ready to pursue the band full-time. They kicked off a month-and-a-half-long US tour and celebrated the release of Floorboards last week at the Paradise Loungeís Wednesday-night "Blackout Bar," playing immediately after the stunning Red Sox victory over the Yankees in game seven of the ALCS.

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Issue Date: October 29 - November 4, 2004
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