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BRANCH MANAGER (Buy CDs by this artist)
Top Scale Speed EP7 (Sweet Portable You) 1993
Branch Manager (Dischord) 1995

Top Scale Speed, the first missile from Washington DC's Branch Manager, is too cheeky for a 7-inch record; the trio tries to bite off more than it can give back. Singer/guitarist Ron Winters squashes the unpredictability of Bad Brain H.R. and the brash, ersatz insecurity of Armed Forces-era Elvis Costello together for an untidy but compelling little package in both "Floored and to the Left" and "Sharp," which culminates in a rollercoaster of unexpected dips and rolls. The other two songs could have been left off.

Branch Manager succeeds in accomplishing what the EP tried to do: blend a variety of musical styles into a fairly complete package, though not song by song. The group trots out a bit of jazz, some tongue-in-cheek suburban funk, a burst of hardcore and a jolt of power-chord heavy prog rock. Stretching out on a full-length CD, Winters is better able to open the occasional door into what he would have listeners believe are the recesses of his soul, as in "Smoke and Mirrors" "Hate, Resentment and Jealousy" and "The Best Sleep Is Behind Me," a dizzy lounge ditty. Meanwhile, drummer Derek Decker (ex-Iceboxers) and bassist Dave Allen demonstrate rhythms that are inhumanly precise ("Gameface") or just sloppy enough to trust ("Spirit Boy 2000"). The disc does have weak links, however, none more damaging than the choice of an ineffectual instrumental, "Bent Flagpole," as its opening track.

[Ian McCaleb]