The Blue Van Dear Independence (TVT Records)
Some people call it garage rock, I'm gonna call these tunes "bar bangers," by which I mean the kind of up-tempo, ’60s-throwback songs that probably sound best coming out of crappy equipment at your favorite neighborhood watering hole. From rural Denmark, the guys in The Blue Van could probably yank a willing patron off her bar stool and at least get her head bobbing. Everything on this disc is well-constructed. Anthem-y choruses help it go down easy. Still, if you're done with the garage revival (the one that made The White Stripes famous) and waiting for the genre to dilate again, Dear Independence could grow tiresome.
Jello Biafra In the Grip of Official Treason (Alternative Tentacle)
You gotta be glad someone's saying it. The Dead Kennedys' singer who once ran for mayor in San Francisco (among many other political exploits) is a great rabble-rouser. Biafra comes out swinging on this triple-disc spoken-word release. He's crass. He's energetic. He's blunt. Most of his rants would be better off with a bit of focus and specificity. Rarely does he preach something the choir hasn't heard. But it's the delivery that's fun. Plus, the album comes with a handy list of websites organized by cause, prompting us to get involved.
Qwel and Meaty Ogre Freezer Burner (Galapagos)
In terms of hip-hop production, these days Chicago dominates my heart, tugging those strings with its gorgeous blue moods. Meaty Ogre's work is no exception. A collector of rare vinyl, he weaves obscure samples together beautifully. Unfortunately, Qwel (of the Typical Cats crew) spits his flow with little rhythmic or tonal variation. He misses opportunities to punctuate phrases or ride the beat. Most of what he says just doesn't stick. Sadly, the imbalance of skill between DJ and emcee means the lyrics come across as a distraction from the good stuff; filler—not substance.