At first, I was wary, remembering the Ex-Hustlers' early recorded efforts as rather bad, ignoring such important aspects as chord changes, and...singing on-key. Then, I was inclined to think they were just good musicians aping other bands' shticks. (Built to Spill? Guided by Voices?) My final conclusion: even though it's all been done before, Dirty Haiku fucking rocks. Its grimy pop and weighty bass is satisfyingly energetic--an indie formula that strays enough to be interesting. Except for a few over-sentimental ballads, Ex-Hustlers have become a worthy little Portland snack. JULIANNE SHEPHERD
The most distinct cliques in my high school were the Stoners and the New Wavers. These two factions derived their sociological force from the influence of mascot bands: Judas Priest and Duran Duran. The Stoners beat up the Wavers, accusing them of being fags. The Wavers retaliated by calling the Stoners stoners and slashing their tires.15 years later, the singer of Judas Priest has come out of the closet. And not that anyone was clamoring for one, but Duran Duran has made another album.
Pop Trash has all the outward trappings of their early stuff, only amplified by orchestral grandiosity. And, since image is the most crucial component of their appeal, let it be said they look terrible. The album photos show three bloated, middle-aged men, tragically crass and somewhat predatory-looking. It's sad and unattractive, in a 20-year high school reunion way, proving once and for all that you can't recapture youth or the youth market with pie-eyed sentimentality. RICK LEVIN
Skull and Bones
If you didn't buy the Judgment Night soundtrack for the Cypress Hill songs, and if you don't immediately think "Hits From the Bong" every time you hear "Son of A Preacher Man" you are a slightly different Cypress Hill fan than I. This is one band I've been with from the beginning, and like a barnacle on a great white whale, hope to be with until the end. Their new double disc is 9/10ths awesome and 1/10th sucky. The first disc is rap-licious, with all the old Hill stylings we know and love. Disc two contains rap lyrics backed by hardcore/industrial rock sound that's as tasty as sharing a fudge sundae with a big hot stud. Now for the sucky part: There are similar songs on both discs--the difference is that one is "Rap Superstar" and one is "Rock Superstar," which I find heinously cheesy and stupid--but nonetheless kickass in both genres. KATIE SHIMER