Wednesday, December 31, 1997

Interstellar love music

Posted By on Wed, Dec 31, 1997 at 12:00 AM

American Mars' debut recording asks questions, offers no answers and wades in its own ragged beauty, dark power and sensual confusion like a peacock strutting its feathers in a field full of crows.

This Dearborn quartet (what's up with Dearborn, anyway? Windy and Carl, Fez and now American Mars?) combines -- mostly unintentionally -- the best elements of artists such as the Velvets, early Gun Club, Joy Division, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Giant Sand, Gang of Four and PJ Harvey, as well as its own aesthetic of exploding guitars in-your-face rock and subtle, yet unmistakably original melodic and modal invention.

American Mars plays rock from the underbelly of the (sub)urban night. Here slavish devotion to revealing desires, pains and truths that are normally overlooked or purposely and forcefully repressed is the MO. Thomas Trimble and Karla K. Richardson, the primary singer-songwriters in this band, have distinctly different approaches. Trimble looks for the mystery in the moment, using his guitar to cut a hole in the gray. Big chords and pronounced melodies give urgent voice to his desire to transcend everyday realities, go deeper into the spiritual heart of the country called rock. ("Call it treason/a break in trust/call it the season/call it lust/behind the glasses a smiling phantom." -- from "Crush").

Richardson has desires of her own; they equate lust and longing, and loss and redemption with love and spirit. Her tunes are subtler and more expansive, developing more slowly and sensually ("I'd climb through your chimney/I'd even go hunting/kill all the boars with my bare mouth/suck out all the coal/'cause I know it's good for me." -- from "Try It"). The words drip from her mouth like running water. With both songwriters, though, the sexual, personal and communal come shining through driving, careening, texturally and atmospherically gorgeous rock music that is jarring and seductive. In their harmonies, their voices entwine in a mix that aches, slips and slides with a barely restrained dark power that reveals the libidinal urge to cut loose.

In all, American Mars' debut is all you could hope for in something really new. It's strong throughout with tough and tender songs that are catchy and memorable. This band makes rock and roll that is smart, passionate, heady and erotic; what else could you ask for from a first album?


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