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The Best and the Brightest of the Passion Players

The Guide

June 30, 2002|Robert Hilburn

One strength of the new rock resurgence is the wide range of musical styles. This isn't a horde of bands with a similar sound. These groups are linked only by their passion, creativity and individuality.

The Strokes

This New York quintet is the easiest entry point because it mirrors the moody, minimalist, slightly world-weary music of an earlier bunch of New Yorkers: Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. The question facing the band is whether it can move beyond that sound on its second album, due next year on RCA.

Even if you're skeptical, there's no denying the seductive charm of the best tracks on the group's RCA album, "Is This It"--notably "Last Nite," a slice of rock noir so enticing it sticks in your memory as much as Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side."

The Hives

This is the next most accessible group. The Swedish quintet's garage-rock sound combines the sass of the early Rolling Stones with the driving insistence of the Stooges. Their live show (which is a must) is far more charismatic than the Strokes'. The Hives reflect marvelously the impatience and exuberance of youth.

"Barely Legal" (Gearhead/Burning Heart) and "Veni Vidi Vicious" (Sire/Burning Heart/Epitaph) are both gems. The best bet: "Your New Favourite Band," an English import on Poptones Records that contains highlights from the two albums.

The White Stripes

If you only get one album by these bands, make it "White Blood Cells" on V2 Records. It's certainly fun when the Stripes do Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan songs in concert, but their strength is Jack White's songs. The elusiveness of love is his favorite topic, and he masterfully conveys the accompanying sense of yearning and doubt.

The Mars Volta

Like Trail of Dead, this band came out of the intense, physical Texas music scene that produced At the Drive-In, which has since broken up. The Mars Volta, in fact, is fronted by Drive-In's singer, Cedric Bixler, and its guitarist, Omar Rodriguez. The Mars Volta's first album is months away on Gary Gersh's new, still untitled label, but the band played with a windshield-shattering intensity at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April. The music, with some prog-rock touches, lacks the accessibility of the Hives' and Stripes', but is thrilling in its own way.

At the Drive-In's breakup "was poor timing because the group was just starting to get attention," Rodriguez says, "but we had lost the love of music. As a guitarist, I felt caged in and bored."

... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

Conrad Keely, one of the group's three singers, grew up listening to art-rock figures, including Frank Zappa and Pink Floyd, along with the Beatles. He later developed an interest in punk, and Trail of Dead's music reflects all those influences. The Interscope group's sonic assault carries an almost symphonic grace in "Source Tags & Codes," one of the year's finest albums.

Although he doesn't feel kinship with bands such as the White Stripes and Hives, Neely is glad to see a door opening to new voices in rock. "I think every band that has a different sound than what is on radio now is like a rock being thrown at a very big car and making some type of dent," he says.

And Then ...

The Vines, whose lead singer, Craig Nicholls, has an especially charismatic stage presence, will release their debut album July 16 on Capitol Records. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club should have a new album next year from Virgin. The latter's guitar-driven, rock noir style is as drawn from the Jesus and Mary Chain as the Strokes' is from Lou Reed, although it shows more range.

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