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Nebraskans, Carolinians trade licks

November 10, 2002|Dean Kuipers

Various artists

"NE vs. NC: Nebraska vs.

North Carolina" (Redemption)

** 1/2

A RIVALRY is a dangerous thing to start, even for art's sake. After all, what kind of beef could exist between the alternative rock musics of Nebraska and North Carolina -- who can be the most emo?

Well, it wasn't a question before, but now it is. The first in a planned series of compilation albums from Beverly Hills' Redemption Records pitting scene against scene, "NE vs. NC: Nebraska vs. North Carolina" gathers a vast array of material into two discs, each defining the self-flagellating "emotional" post-punk sound in these two very intriguing indie-rock scenes.

But from this flimsy premise emerges not a competition about which sounds better, but a vital document of rock culture outside the mainstream.

For Redemption head Ryan Kuper, who also manages the musical career of comedian Andy Dick, "NE vs. NC" was an excuse to document two scenes he thought were doing indie rock the right way: nurturing new sounds true to one locale.

A testament to the quality of the project, the differences do emerge. Though both discs contain a smattering of pop, Orange County-style pop punk and garage, mostly this is the tale of two emos: the Carolinian being more knowing and true to traditional rock forms, and the Nebraskan more naive and fresh.

From America's newest pain vortex, Omaha, come such fascinating and highly listenable groups as Desaparecidos, a side project of Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst. "What's New for Fall" is the best example on this disc of what seem to be the area's trademarks, reflected in Race for Titles, Neva Dinova, the Good Life, Cursive and other standout bands -- a loose, free-flowing garage sensibility with a deep affection for sensitive new wave melodies and vocal styles, put through an indie rock mulcher.

There must be something in the prairie soil of Nebraska that keeps the Cure's Robert Smith sounding fresh, because there's a whole lot of his inflection seeping out of these Midwestern post-punks. Omaha is a lifestyle away from anywhere else that's ever had a music scene in this country, and it sounds it.

North Carolina, on the other hand, is more tied to the apron strings of Eastern hard-core, with the Chapel Hill area having been conspicuously hip since at least the '80s. Bands such as the Scaries, Beloved, the Ladderback and One Six Conspiracy are more into a spiky, technical, from-soft-to-a-roar punk sound that echoes the D.C. legacy of Fugazi or, in the case of Kudzu Wish, more no-wave experimental units such as Sonic Youth.

In the end, Nebraska might hold the key to a breakthrough, but North Carolina has a more technically accomplished sound. But this compilation's other lesson is that these are just dangerous generalities. More important is the idea that emo might just produce your next favorite band.

-- Dean Kuipers

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