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BEATNIK FILMSTARS (Buy CDs by this artist)
Maharishi (UK Big Sky) 1991
Themes from Foreverdrone EP (UK Vinyl Japan) 1992
Laid Back and English (La-di-da America) 1994
Astronaut House (La-di-da America) 1995

This English quintet spits back shards of US influences like Pavement, Sebadoh and Sonic Youth, but the group's rough-hewn, druggy, post-Velvets flavor leaves it a tad behind more commercial countrymen in the bid to conquer America. And while Beatnik Filmstars come from Bristol, the group's lo-fi three-guitar assault has nothing in common with such trip-hop hometowners as Massive Attack, Tricky or Portishead.

The production on Laid Back and English is cloudy, but its 16 songs are edgy, jagged and occasionally buoyant in spite of the murky sound. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Andrew Jarrett's pop sensibilities are bent but honed. His prim, almost melancholy vocals are poignant enough for the group's melodic material ("Clean," "Kick It in the Head," "Skill") but don't offer a lot of range. While unremarkable, Laid Back and English has a groovy kind of innocence; also, the guitar interplay among Jarrett, Tim Rippington and John Austin is quite good (especially on "Missed"). Aside from a throwaway attempt at shocking noise ("Swillyagro") and a few arty indulgences, it's a solid, psychedelic debut.

From the first fractious chords of "La Fruitmousse," Astronaut House is a major improvement, with more surprises and fewer affectations. The three guitarists careen and cut boldly, and Jarrett adopts a new, angrier tone to match: "Don't listen to the radio," he commands. "Wreck My Style" betters the first record's style with snaky melodies and exotic guitar sounds; that segues into the belligerent, Fall-ish title track. If Jarrett was shy on the debut, he's well out of his shell here, and the band responds with rhythmic frenzy and spastic abandon. Even the pretty ballad ("Protein +") is interrupted with an ear-scorching noise-guitar eruption. "What Goes Around Comes Around" again confirms Pavement debts, but it's followed by the ironic (?) "New Improved Formula" and "Best Idea Probably," which features guitars that sound like — no shit — helicopters. Apocalypse now.

[Mark Woodlief]