CD Roundup — Hunx and His Punx and Low

The ever flamboyant Oakland quartet shine on their debut album, while Duluth natives deliver on the usual goods.

Raghav Mehta

âÄúToo Young to Be in LoveâÄù

Band: Hunx and His Punx

Label: Hardly Art

All who thought indieâÄôs surf-pop wave had reached an apex in 2009 with the arrival of GirlsâÄô self-titled album might want to issue a retraction. Christopher Owens be damned; Hunx and His Punx might have you beat.

Fronted by the unmistakably gaudy Seth Bogart, Hunx and his Punx is what Elvis Costello would sound like if he wrote a soundtrack for a gay, 50s-era porno.

In most cases, a songwriterâÄôs sexual orientation isnâÄôt ever relevant enough where it warrants mentioning. But BogartâÄôs nasally lisp, flamboyant persona and all-female backing band is exactly what distinguishes Hunx and His Punx from the ever-growing scene of homage acts that happen to draw from the same pool of influences. Well, that and itâÄôs just done more artfully this time around.

The Oakland quintetâÄôs debut LP âÄúToo Young to Be in LoveâÄù reads like a high school diary teeming with adolescent ennui.

Backed by a sunny array of doo-wop grooves and sweet-as-sugar melodies, the songs hearken back to rock âÄònâÄô rollâÄôs most innocent beginnings. With bassist Shannon Shaw accompanying Bogart on vocals, the record is loaded with call-and-response jingles and kitschy pop ditties that fall somewhere between Shangri-LaâÄôs girl power and seminal new wave cuts like âÄúThis YearâÄôs ModelâÄù and The Modern LoversâÄô self-titled.

BogartâÄôs position as a gay male songwriter writing 50s-era pop numbers is probably worthy of a dissertation or two, but thatâÄôs beside the point.

Bogart and his garish cohorts arenâÄôt looking to wax intellectual or comment on social matters, theyâÄôre just trying to play rock âÄònâÄô roll. And theyâÄôre doing a damn fine job.

âÄúCâÄômonâÄù

Band: Low

Label: Sub Pop

LowâÄôs last album âÄúDrums and GunsâÄù was their most divisive in years. Loosely based on the Iraq war, the record was full of electronic drum loops and industrial-sounding clatter that illustrated the bandâÄôs versatility and willingness to step outside their comfort zone. But LowâÄôs foray into the truly weird yielding mixed results at best.

Spotty experimentation aside, LowâÄôs follow-up is anything but. On their ninth proper studio album, indie rockâÄôs favorite (and presumably only) Mormon trio make a return to form, gravitating back toward their slow-as-a-glacier (âÄòslowcoreâÄô for all you micro-genre junkies) aesthetic that originally defined their musical identity more than a decade ago.

Recorded in Duluth at what was once a Catholic cathedral (it still looks very much like a church), âÄúCâÄômonâÄù delivers everything you would expect in a Low album: colossal wall-of-sound guitars, gorgeous string sections and quiet rock numbers that crescendo into eruptions of stormy atmospherics.

But the albumâÄôs real genius lies in its subtleties provided by the featured guest musicians. On âÄúWitches,âÄù a banjo âÄî courtesy of Trampled by TurtleâÄôs Dave Carroll âÄî clangs beneath a cascading guitar, while on the eight-minute epic âÄúNothing But Heart,âÄù the ever-technical Nels Cline tears into a dissonant guitar solo, propelling the band into the realm of space-rock.

At the end of the day, âÄúCâÄômonâÄù finishes off where it started âÄî on an optimistic note. The albumâÄôs surprisingly poppy closer, âÄúSomethingâÄôs Turning Over,âÄù carries on with a youthful spirit with Alan Sparhawk singing âÄúAs a child I hid between the pages, cutting secret phrases over head / the things we turn our back on as weâÄôre older, only drag us back into our bed.âÄù