White Mystery, "Blood & Venom" () -- Now that the White Stripes are no more, can we stop bringing them up when discussing Chicago's siblings-named-White duo, White Mystery? Jack White would probably dig this carrot-topped couple, but Alex White and her younger brother Francis White grind out garage rock without being informed as much by Jack's blues. And thank goodness. On "Blood & Venom," their second album, out Tuesday, White Mystery stomps and lurches and screams bloody murder like the scummiest of Detroit punk bands, continuing and occasionally besting the cacophony of their debut.
Within tight two- and three-minute songs, Alex sings -- no, she hollers, wails, doing her best foreboding Grace Slick -- and riffs while Francis bashes the bejesus out of his drums. They sound best here when they're completely bleak -- "Smoke" bristles with real danger, like a scene in a biker flick ("I'm going down the highway / looking for some trouble / I know I'm gonna find it"), and the layered vocals of "Dead Inside" -- or utterly giddy and ready to throw down. The second half features "Birthday" (finally, a punk birthday anthem!), followed by "Party," and by "1985" Alex is celebrating her own birthday -- "April 30, 1985, was the day I set the world on fire!" The album actually has a sluggish start, with several midtempo songs that drag a bit. But eventually the bombs explode and the fuzz and reverb and overmodulated whoops turn "Blood & Venom" into a potent cocktail.
In concert: White Mystery celebrates the release of "Blood & Venom" with two shows on Wednesday at Pancho's, 2200 N. California. At 6 p.m. it's all-ages with Close Hits and Loose Dudes opening ($7 here); at 10:30 p.m. it's 21+ with Slushy and Rabble Rabble opening ($7 here)
Ssssnake, "Hostile Snakeover" () -- It's OK, laugh. Go ahead. You have to get past it -- the silly name, the title's lame pun. Because once you've given in to an eye roll or two, you can actually hear the not-so-silly funk and hip-hop hybrid that is Ssssnake, a k a Noah Tabakin (a member of Mucca Pazza!). This debut disc is alive with warm sounds and beats, ingredients of an engaging mix of Jeff Buckley vocals, Stevie Wonder funk, old-school hip-hop and contemporary soul. Unfortunately, several songs are pretty anemic, lacking support for the one cool sound driving the track ("Secret Rooms," for instance, comes on hard with a one-fingered synth bass, then when the song catches its breath in the refrain -- there's nothing there, it dissolves to a halt) and seemingly mistaking spare instrumentation for compositional space. Tabakin's voice, though, is a multi-faceted tool, crooning R&B like a veteran and chewing rap rhymes ("Deep Down"). At least there are no Samuel L. Jackson samples.
Clara May, "Hush" () -- Tom Silva, a Malaysian-born filmmaker, and Nicole Sotelo, an Ivy League theologian and author, combine to comprise the core of Clara May -- a band, not a person. The music is rich and alluring, a soft but vibrant blend of folk and rock styles with world-music roots that acts as a mini-melting pot of new American music. Vocally, though, it's not as strong. Silva is unique, for sure, a wavering, searching baritone that recalls Brad Roberts of the Crash Test Dummies, and Sotelo, on the rare occasions when she takes the lead, is reserved and delicate. Their words -- mostly oblique social concerns, with "The Chosen" honoring soldiers in Iraq with a Robbie Robertson level of riffage -- frequently trip over the music's natural cadences. But the overall effect is pleasant and at least a promising debut.