A handful of local bands have new releases, and they carry the distinct flavor of the past. One might say that time has stood still here in this part of the Midwest, but the current sad state of popular music – from the pop princesses and boy bands to nü-metal – makes each of these releases sound fresher than they might have in a different time.

By far the best of the bunch is the new release from the Iowa alternative-scene veterans House of Large Sizes, but short releases from Circle 7 and The Blue Band, as well as the industrial full-length from Human Aftertaste, are worth a listen.

House of Large Sizes, House of Large Sizes

It’s ironic that House of Large Sizes was, in the early ’90s, compared to Nirvana, when the band came to be long before Kurt Cobain and company hit it big. Now, newcomers to the Cedar Falls-based band will probably be reminded of The White Stripes, even though the power trio affectionately known as HOLS pre-date Jack and Meg White by more than a decade.

Yet aside from the prominence of Barb Schilf’s rubber-band bass, the comparison works. And that’s a compliment. The reason so many rock fans have fallen in love with the Stripes is that, like House of Large Sizes, it’s a minimalist outfit that believes in the power of songwriting and the almighty hook, and the charm of some calculated sloppiness.

House’s new self-titled release, on the What Are Records? label, is a record that would feel right at home in either the post-punk or the grunge eras, but that speaks more to its timelessness than to any retro qualities. The music is straightforward but frequently surprising, Dave Deibler’s whine is as distinctive as ever, and the music has a rough-edged vitality that’s difficult to beat. The band delivers a no-nonsense record, fueled by hooks provided by Schilf’s bass as much Deibler’s efficient guitar.

The driving rocker “Creeps Like Us” is followed by the quiet, haunting deadpan of “Seaweed Eyes,” and the juxtaposition is intoxicating. “Lightning Rod Salesman” has a funky, sludgy bass lead that proves that Schilf is HOLS’s secret weapon; the element that distinguished the band years ago still does. “Sudden Adult Death Syndrome” has a dirge-like quality, and the slowness allows listeners to get a sense of Deibler’s songwriting prowess. It’s so good it nearly sparkles.

The House of Large Sizes’ Web site can be found at (http://www.houseoflargesizes.com) and includes links to purchase the new album. The band will be playing December 29 at Gabe’s Oasis in Iowa City. Find this article online for a link to a video clip of HOLS live at RIBCO on November 22.

Human Aftertaste, Eat Our Meat

From Octopoid Productions comes this latest industrial effort, complete with a silly album name and tasteless cheesecake cover art. What’s unclear – and what makes it so difficult to evaluate – is whether the band wants to actually achieve something or is content being the industrial equivalent of Spinal Tap.

Octopoid (formerly Land of Nod, one-time home of the similar Savage Gentlemen) seems to specialize in positioning bands on the line between thinking of themselves as seriously shocking and selling themselves as a big joke. I’d prefer the latter, and there are certainly reasons to buy into this point of view. The vocals are theatrically overdramatic, with kitsch built right in, and then there’s the album title and packaging. On the other hand, the song titles – “Scream Within a Scream,” “The Rough Beast” – have a dreary self-importance.

The music is surprisingly varied for an industrial release, and there’s even a track (“Diamond-Studded Halo”) that might fall into the category of a ballad. The lead track, “Tick Tock Man,” offers a funky bass line and guitar with a melody, and as this type of music goes, it’s sometimes downright accessible. “Taboo You” belongs in a dance club, and throughout, the album backs down the typical all-rhythm-guitar-and-drum-machine attack for a subtler, more textured sound. Even the most traditionally industrial track – “In THAT We Trust” – packs a punch because it’s part of a consistently shifting musical vision.

Yet fundamentally, the appeal of Human Aftertaste will be limited to fans of industrial metal. The group is clearly looking to incorporate other styles of music, but it hasn’t yet stretched far enough.

The Human Aftertaste will have a free show to celebrate the release of Eat Our Meat at 9 p.m. on December 7 at Lumpy’s in Davenport. Also performing will be Wisteria Losenge and One Night Standards. For more information about Human Aftertaste, visit (http://www.humanaftertaste.com). For more information about Octopoid productions or to buy CDs, visit (http://www.octopoid.com).

The Blue Band, New Blue for 2002

This five-song platter includes three Blue Band originals – one written by frontman Bob Dorr and guitarist Bryce Janey, another by guitarist-singer Jeff Petersen, and a third by organist Sam Salomone – and a pair of covers, along with a few videos. The ever-evolving (and prolific) outfit is as easy-going and smooth as ever, and Dorr never seems to miss a step, even when his personnel shifts. All the tracks are solid and professional, and while none is spectacular, this disc is a great way to catch up with an old favorite.

For more information on The Blue Band or to buy music, visit (http://www.theblueband.com).

Circle 7, “About You”/”Wills Cry”

This two-song teaser from the local rap-metal-funk outfit Circle 7 showcases the band’s versatility well, with four or five musical styles jammed into songs of under four minutes. The first track, “About You,” is strong, built on a funk base and vocal charisma, and then exploding, while “Wills Cry” is a pretty standard workout of the soft-loud/sing-scream variety. The band is tight and sounds great, The Real Thing-era Faith No More mixed with today’s angst-ridden tattoo metal. In the end, though, only “About You” works on repeated listening. The single proves the band has the chops, and it should tide fans over until the next full-length arrives.

Circle 7 will perform December 14 at Rascals in Moline, and December 27 at Stars & Stripes in Davenport, opening for Vanilla Ice.

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