David Peisner



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    Hot Leg: Into the Light

    Steel Panther stride onstage around 1 A.M. at La Zona Rosa on the second night of Austin, Texas' annual South by Southwest music festival. The mock-metal band's joke isn't subtle: four guys with poodle hair and spandex pants performing foul-mouthed odes to fat girls, Asian hookers, and the primacy of heavy metal. Justin Hawkins first encountered Steel Panther last year when he was in Los Angeles mastering Red Light Fever, the debut album by his new band, Hot Leg. That Steel Panther would appeal to him is both obvious and a little surprising. His previous group, the Darkness, also toyed with rock clichés, though never so blatantly. The Darkness' 2003 debut, Permission to Land, matched big riffs with Hawkins' outlandish falsetto on songs about genital warts and ping-pong. Live, Hawkins dressed in flashy catsuits and played guitar while riding a stuffed white tiger.

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    Mastodon: Bang Your Head

    "Has anyone seen Brent?" It's 1:30 on a cold, rainy Friday afternoon in late February. The members of Mastodon had planned on meeting a half-hour ago at El Myr, a colorful, run-down Mexican cantina that serves as unofficial HQ for the band here in their hometown of Atlanta. Drummer Brann Dailor is less on the hunt for his missing bandmate than he is bemusedly giving voice to Mastodon's semipermanent state of being. Guitarist Bill Kelliher, who worked at El Myr in Mastodon's early days, is at the bar with his wife and young son. Dailor and bassist-vocalist Troy Sanders are chatting with friends about tomorrow night's show, a daylong outdoor metal festival the band will headline. Guitarist-vocalist Brent Hinds is nowhere to be found. Dailor, who arrived promptly at 1:00, seems less than surprised. "He'll be here eventually, going, 'What?

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    Hot New Band: Manchester Orchestra

    Tucked into a booth behind a plate of snow crab legs and a cold beer at a cavernous fish house across from Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery, Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull is talking about one of his favorite subjects: God. "There's a difference between people who use God as a way to sleep at night and people who are so convicted by their beliefs that they can't," says Hull, 22. "I'm in category two." Hull's father and grandfather were pastors, and in Manchester Orchestra, he's teamed with four guys who also grew up in Christian homes. "But we're not a Christian band. I try to write through a lens rather than on top of a soapbox." After nearly being suspended from his Christian high school for playing at a local club that featured a themed room called Hell, Hull home­schooled himself for his senior year and focused on his band.

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    Jailhouse Rock

    In the dim light of a cold, rainy December afternoon, the Washington, D.C. Central Detention Facility stands as a dull colossus at the edge of the city's grimy southeast corridor. Situated on a campus of similarly weathered municipal structures, the hulking flesh-tone edifice's exterior has been worn dark gray in splotches under its boxy windows, a visual testament to a troubled history that has included rampant overcrowding, health department citations for roach and rat infestation, and an occasional lack of running water since it opened in 1976.

  • Mr. Lif, 'I Heard It Today' (Bloodbot Tactical)

    Chuck D famously called rap the CNN of black America, but Mr. Lif wants to remake it as CNBC. The Boston rapper's latest is a quasi concept album dedicated to the current financial crisis -- think It Takes a Nation of Bankers to Hold Us Back. Over harried beats and synth stabs that do a fair job of approximating the public's panicked mood, Lif delivers a populist, paranoid dissertation on the TARP bailout, fluctuating interest rates, and the gold standard. If that sounds about as much fun as, say, watching CNBC, rest assured, dude's got a tighter flow than Larry Kudlow. BUY: iTunes

  • Evil Nine, 'They Live!' (Marine Parade)

    Concept albums can be dicey, but this Brighton, England electro duo negotiate the terrain smartly, crafting the most appealing musical ode to zombies since Thriller. The Underworld­-ish "Feed on You" and horror­-movie march "How Do We Stop the Normals?" set the spooky tone amid ever­-present washes of minor­-key synths. But beats that throb, stomp, whip, and crack, plus a diverse parade of guest vocalists (underground MCs El­-P and Beans, cow­punk howler Emily Breeze, and Bernard Sumner doppelgänger David AutoKratz), steer the proceedings well away from the novelty bin. BUY: iTunes

  • Black Lips, '200 Million Thousand' (Vice)

    Across four albums, Black Lips have made sloppinessan aesthetic choice. Their live shows have the feel of a bunch of blitzed teenagers spazzing out on borrowed instruments in a friend's basement. Their records sound like extended pranks. But amateurish charm grows tedious, even when delivered with the balls-out energy this quartet routinely generates. Fortunately, buried beneath the Lips' psychedelic slop heap are surprisingly exacting pop hooks, clever musical experiments, and insidious grooves that belie the band's wastrel image. "Drugs," the second track on the Atlanta jesters' fifth album, exemplifies the lips' appealing dichotomy: It's an ode to getting fucked-up with hookers in the backseat of your car, sung by bassist Jared Swilley in a suitably unhinged wail, but set to an impossibly infectious 1950s sock-hop beat.

  • M. Ward, 'Hold Time' (Merge)

    Matt Ward's playful leads and warm, insistent strum make him the rare indie-rock guitarist with an instantly recognizable style. His voice is also distinctive, though more for its limitations: He sings like he's got a stuffy nose and a throat full of sawdust. It's to Ward's credit that he knows exactly what to do with both instruments. On "Fisher of Men," he drops shuffling guitars over a locomotive backbeat borrowed from Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," and on "Blake's View," his rasp tightens, chasing an organ up an octave with emotionally satisfying results. It takes a minute for the standouts here to stand out, but it's an enjoyable wait. Listen: M. Ward, "Never Had Nobody Like You"(DOWNLOAD MP3) BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, 'Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit' (Lightning Rod)

    Southern rock is a minefield of rebel flags, drinking songs, and dudes yelling "Free Bird!" With Drive-By Truckers, singer-guitarist Jason Isbell learned to embrace some of those clichés; on his gritty, vibrant second solo album, he begins to transcend them. "However Long" personalizes working-class disaffection into a defiant anthem; stormy rocker "Soldiers Get Strange" is almost certainly the best tune ever written about post-traumatic stress disorder; and multiple tales of warm, lonely barrooms and the warm, lonely relationships they breed uncover new truths while traversing well-trod emotional terrain. Listen: "Seven-Mile Island" (DOWNLOAD MP3) BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Living Things, 'Habeas Corpus' (Jive)

    In 2005, Living Things' debut album, Ahead of the Lions, felt like a cathartic call to arms for a war-weary country that had sold its soul. Now America's problems are even more dire, but its mood has changed. As such, the strength of this follow-up is not the defiant antiestablishment fist-pumping (though there's plenty), but the tunes. "Let It Rain," a warm, soaring anthem brimming with bittersweet nostalgia, and "Oxygen," which rides a dark, throbbing beat and big, gushing chorus into Depeche Mode–ville, are a nice antidote to the relentless, righteous sloganeering and glittery, staccato riffs. Listen: Living Things, "Let It Rain"(DOWNLOAD MP3) BUY: iTunesAmazon

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