The good, the bad — The local

Quarterly Bay area music roundup

Welcome to this year's final installment of local-music reviews. It's not quite as eclectic as one might hope this time around, I'm sorry to say, but runs the gamut from bands you should seek out immediately to, er, the opposite kind. Enjoy.

Baluja II
A Beautiful Dream

This full-length by a Tampa one-man band kicks off with some tight, snappy electro funk-rock ("Cuttin' Loose") and slinky groove ("Bundle of Joy"); the programmed bass and rhythms effectively support Mike Baluja's bright, syncopated guitar and coolly minimalist vocals. Deeper in, however, the sinewy vibe that carries these two tunes sometimes collapses under the weight of the myriad sounds and styles heaped upon it. "A New Beginning" suffers from too much arty ambition and overwrought keyboard, and "The Dark Room" is a heavier, more cluttered and less successful version of the disc's opener. The rest of the album follows a pattern of hit ("Comfort in the Bottle," "Back it Up") and miss ("A Beautiful Dream," "One"), hitting with spare, groovy hooks and missing when it tries to pile too much onto them. ([email protected])

Vent
Six-Song Demo

This Pinellas melodic hard rock act has everything in its place — which can be a good thing, a bad thing or, in this case, both. Every performance is competent and somewhat inspired, from the rhythm-perfect drumming through the throaty baritone vocals. The production is fine, with the minor exception of the midrange-less rhythm guitar tones, but that's exactly what most metallic guitar tracks currently sound like anyway, so there you go. (Oddly, the leads and clean tracks are fat and perfect.) Fans looking for something that lies between Creed's monolithic, one-dimensional riffage and older metal's more adventurous six-string acrobatics will be pleased, particularly with the disc's first two songs. Having said that, however, Vent offers little in the way of innovation or discernible personality. The little touches they add, like cleanly picked instrumental passages, the hackneyed sounds of rain at the close of "My World," and the flanged-out guitar intro to galloping closer "Out of Time," are the same things hard rock bands have been doing since the '70s. It's definitely not bad, but a little more originality could go a long, long way. ([email protected])

Buckle
The June EP

Three quick bursts of female-fronted power-pop, complete with a few intriguing new chord changes ("Sunday") and some quirky comedy ("Sunomono"). There's nothing shockingly different going on here, but Gina Forlano's sultry vocals recall a less smoky Chrissie Hynde. The instrumental performances are appropriately rough yet tight. This mini EP's production is a bit strange at first — Forlano's lead vocal, though not loud or strained, is boosted conspicuously out front — but you might find yourself humming the choruses after only a couple of listens. (www.niceguyeddie.com/buckle/)

Concise
Prevail EP

Oldsmar crossover kids Concise have mixed metallicious guitar tones, emo angst and raw, punk-ass execution on this six-song disc, and it works well. Better than most, anyway; there are plenty of posthardcore bands in the Bay area that sound like an amalgam of every group that's come through town with New Found Glory over the past few years, but only a handful inject the style with their own personality. While this lengthy EP waffles between bursts of originality and the tried and true, there's a visceral sense of commitment — and just enough cunning guitar-fill innovation — that's impossible to miss. Concise are heavier, catchier, and more rocking than the more indie-minded of their ilk, without veering too close to The Used/Taking Back Sunday territory. It works in their favor. Check out "12/13" and "Soundwaves," and try not to be at least a little impressed. They're not exactly airtight, but that sense of impending chaos works in their favor. There's lots of potential here. (www.concisepunk.com) 1/2

Janelle Sadler
Don't Make Me Laugh

Journeywoman backup singer Janelle Sadler (Natalie Cole, Donny Osmond, fucking Crimson Glory!) calls Cali home these days, but because she's a Tampa native, we'll give her debut disc a spin in the name of home turf. Don't Make Me Laugh is a pop-jazzy collection of originals penned by Sadler's producer and band, and several classics of varying genres (Janis Ian's "Jesse," fucking Hendrix!). It's also exactly what you'd expect from such an offering: immaculate musicianship (particularly Robin Swenson's wonderful piano), a great voice, clean, shiny production. Is it boring? As a guy whose all-time favorite album might be Faith No More's Angel Dust, I've gotta say yes. But even I was charmed at moments — "Manic Depression" was NOT one of them — and it's a solid, professional effort that should please fans of everything from cruise-ship jazz to Sarah McLachlan. (www.janellesadler.com) 1/2

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