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Sunday, November 3, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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CD Reviews

Dolour's alt-pop is perfect for a rainy day

Seattle Times staff reporter

"Suburbiac," Dolour (Fugitive Recordings). That face is all over town, staring languidly at you from a poster as the bus rolls by. It is the face of Dolour, more specifically Shane Tutmarc, vocalist and the only constant in a band perpetually changing its lineup and style.

One must refer to this poster when talking about the Seattle band's second album, "Suburbiac," because, in a way, the image reflects the CD's mood beautifully. The expression on Tutmarc's face could be linked to any number of emotions: pain, boredom, anger, fatigue, any general symptom of malaise you can think of. "Why does it seem that everyone's happier than me?" he sings on "Chasing the Wrong Girl Home."

And there it is, the underlying essence of "Suburbiac," a catchy collection of alt-pop, if there is such a thing, that takes about two listens to grow on you. "Suburbiac" is an interesting energy exchange, pairing jangly melodies and rhythms that bring a smile to your face with tales of car-crash romances.

That feeling hits in "Iceland," one of those songs that screams "single." Behind the steady guitar line are lovelorn lyrics waxing sweet, sad and silly all at once about a trickster of a girl who left him for home. "She told everyone she was related to Björk/But that's not why I'm writing this song," Tutmarc sings somewhat cheerily, ambling off into the next reverie. "The way she followed the crowd, the way she carried herself/ and flirted like a foreign exchange. ... "

Tutmarc and his assemblage of musicians meld acoustic and electronic instruments into collages of sound that surprise at every turn, sprucing up the standard rock combo with a little theremin, cello and mandolin. The outcome is a touch of Elvis Costello and Bowie, some Flaming Lips, all those musicians who know how to crackle brightly as they sing of pain.

In spite of the upbeat bounce of songs like "Iceland" and "A Billion Odd People," with its sing-along "Bop-bada-da-da-da" refrain, "Suburbiac" is best listened to on a rainy day. Which, considering our climate, makes the timing of its release perfect. We wouldn't be surprised to hear this on tens of Seattle CD players this winter.

"Spend the Night," The Donnas (Atlantic). The Donnas are all grown up, and from the sound of it, they're loving the party life. Such a statement comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with past tales of having boys in every town and partying down with no remorse; the Donnas don't do that guilt thing. Once your love affair is over, they have no problem with keying your Mercedes. That's just the way it is, gents.

Potential lovers are therefore warned, just as listeners should be encouraged to revel in the anarchic joy "Spend the Night" soaks in. As usual, just about every song on "Spend the Night" has a reference to getting blotto, be it by Hennessey — "I Don't Care (So There)" — or herb, or taking charge of libidos. In other words, it's business as usual. But like the Ramones, they can get away with this kind of sameness.

The Donnas' draw goes beyond the mere goose and gander statement. It's in that combination of classic '70s butt-rock and Donna A.'s subtly sweet voice, spitting out gloriously juvenile lyrics behind the chugging punch of unadulterated beer-drunk rock 'n' roll. "Don't wanna be your friend/Don't try to take me home/This won't happen again/Just take me to the backseat, do you need a map?" she sings pointedly on "Take Me to the Backseat."

No matter what their age, they'll still take you right back to the best part of your rambunctious nature. So take 'em up on their invitation — just be sure to hide your sons.

"Lucky Day," Shaggy (MCA). To call Shaggy a reggae toaster would make legitimate reggae artists reject that manufactured peace-and-love vibe and take up arms. He's a pop artist, using the established island flow to create something palatable for folks who like the idea of reggae music but who just can't be down with real Rastafarians.

Thus Shaggy's gone from being an artist whose special appearances lent an air of cool to mainstream acts, to being a novelty, and "Lucky Day" is yet another hour in a career reduced to boring party music. Not even Chaka Khan, who appears on the song "Get Your Party On," can save the album from being bogged down in rhythmic sameness.

Every song on the CD is but a variation on the same melodic theme, and though the voices may change (along with Khan, Barrington Levy, Mona and Prince Mydas join Shaggy, in addition to others), no single tune serves as a standout. Treat it as background music, or leave it on the shelf.

"Quick An' Dirty," The Slow Boys (Vav Records). Hearing Chicago-style blues brings to mind greasy food and sweaty people dancing furiously to the signature breakneck beat — home, in other words. Maybe that's why The Slow Boys sound so comfortable grooving out of my stereo.

Blues purists would likely bristle at categorizing them specifically, especially since there's enough Seattle in them to make genre die-hards consider them blues lite. But David Hillman's voice has enough grit to make you squint, especially following Bobby Taylor's heady harmonicas.

For the passing fan, this is a band that clicks from the word go, pumping out music that brims with summery sex-appeal on "Right Arms," or dusky cool on tracks like "Where the Road Takes A Bend" or "Les Feuilles Mortes." Plus, it's a tight CD, clocking economically under 30 minutes, and that's so little time to ask for the obligatory trial whirl. We think it'll please.

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