On Vacation

Ryland Bouchard's San Diego weirdo-group The Robot Ate Me takes on the Christian Right and historical fascism with On Vacation, a two-disc (though barely album-length) collection of psychedelic cabaret. The first disc kicks off with "The Genocide Ball," a strip-mined boogie-woogie about divvying up the world's hotspots. The record continues in the vein of a '40s radio broadcast, with crackly swings and marches that feature lyrics too blunt to be witty—like "Oh No! Oh My! (1994)," which sports the line, "All the human Africans are statistics / Doesn't really matter if they die." The ironic retro style of disc one gets tiresome, but it's worth enduring to get to catchy marvels like the skewed kiddie anthem "Crispy Christian Tea Time," which mocks President Bush with disarming charm, portraying him as a selfish child playing with his Jesus action figure. On Vacation's second disc offers a straighter kind of tuneful indie-rock, highlighted by heartfelt ballads like "Apricot Tea" and "The Tourist," which elevate companionship as an alternative to the mass hysteria exemplified by disc one's chilling "Every Nazi Plane Has A Cross."

Emperor X mastermind Chad Matheny also takes advantage of unifying themes and messages of hope on his one-man-band's impressive new album Central Hug/Friendarmy/ Fractaldunes. Emperor X's 2004 debut Tectonic Membrane/Thin Strip On An Edgeless Platform was catchy and quirky enough, but the new record shows more ambition, using electronics to hold together oddly structured, guitar-driven songs about disasters big and small, with a sound that's part Stan Ridgway, part Death Cab For Cutie, and part Pavement. The anthemic opener "Right To The Rails" seems to argue for the importance of public institutions, while "The Citizens Of Wichita" tours museums and medical schools, and "F-R-E-S-N-E-L Licenseur" is about the reassuring power of interstates. The album as a whole contemplates storms and escapes from storms, and stands as a testament to the way people come together in a crisis. The relaxed instrumental finale "Coast To Coast" is a benediction of sorts, sending listeners out into the world in peace, and granting strength and courage.

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