I can't get Vending Machine's latest recording, Kicked and Scratched, out of the CD player. Former Big Ass Trucker (and current Mouse Rocketeer) Robby Grant is the oddball auteur behind Vending Machine, and he's working hard to replace expat Memphian Shelby Bryant as the Bluff City's most beautifully bizarre noisemaker.
Kicked and Scratched is almost Zappaesque in its tone and its eclecticism. Ridiculous but perfect Prince-like falsettos are sandwiched between thin synthetic beats and spacey, seizure-inducing keys on "Vacuum the Ghosts." "Saturday is the Best Day" starts out like an old Lou Barlow tune recorded on a broken four-track, but it evolves into a lush lost track from Pet Sounds. "Marriage Made in Heaven" comes on like a marriage between the Who and Pavement. There are nods to the Beatles (by way of Self Inflicted Ariel Nostalgia-era Guided by Voices) on the wonderfully minimal "When Will I See You Again?," and the head-bending guitar meltdown on "Bird Wing Curve" (a wonderful, Bic-flicking epic) is torn directly from the Grifters' guide to head-bending guitar meltdowns. The disc is peppered with the kinds of whimsical, farting-now/spaceship-later keyboards that made the Clears such a guilty pleasure. Guitar rock is kept to a minimum, but when the guitars are finally unleashed, they attack your ears as sonic Huns. Like all Vending Machine recordings, it's a bit of a novelty and sometimes silly just for the sake of being silly. It will be fun to see how Grant pulls these quirky gems off live when he plays the Shangri-La Christmas Party at the Hi-Tone Café on Friday, December 17th, with Care, Nice Digs, and The Hook-Up DJs.
Memphis' Final Solutions may have found their sonic soul mates in Atlanta's The Lids. Both groups embrace the short but savage sound of Rocket From the Tombs. But while the Final Solutions boast obscure Eastern European influences, the Lids have borrowed more from Phil Spector and Motown. The Lids infuse every two-minute song with plenty of '60s girl-group pop and season the whole with a dash of '80s new wave. Both bands are playing the Young Avenue Deli on Thursday, December 16th, along with The Oscars.
Let's face facts: The Legendary Shack Shakers, led by over-the-top frontman Colonel J.D. Wilkes, is a novelty act of epic proportions. Sure, Wilkes can blow a harp with the best of them, and there's not a more energetic group this side of James Brown. Blending blues, bluegrass, and punk, they come off like Southern Culture on the Skids' younger, somewhat more serious siblings. Having lost Joe Buck, the group's wild-eyed hillbilly guitar slinger, I can't personally vouch for what the Shack Shakers sound like live these days, but with Wilkes at the helm, it's hard to imagine a bad show. The Shack Shakers visit the Hi-Tone on Sunday, December 19th. • --