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DROP NINETEENS (Buy CDs by this artist)
Delaware (Caroline) 1992
National Coma (Caroline) 1993
Your Aquarium EP (Caroline) 1993
HOT ROD
Speed Danger Death (Caroline) 1993

As originally constituted, Boston's Drop Nineteens was able to explore and expound on many forms of indie-rock beauty. With three guitarists (Paula Kelley, Greg Ackell and Motohiro Yasue) and two lead vocalists (Kelley and Ackell) on hand for Delaware, the quintet demonstrates real facility for ragged shoegazer woozenoise pop ("Reberrymemberer," the lengthy instrumental-plus-recitation "Kick the Tragedy") as well as breezy acoustic love-rock ("My Aquarium," "Baby Wonder's Gone"), mid-range Dinosaur Youth aggression ("Winona," "Delaware") and harmony-strung distortion atmospherics ("Happen"). Throughout, finely wrought melodies, airy vocals and a deft feel for textures and dynamics make every moment as disquietingly fetching as the pistol-packing waif pictured on the album cover. Topping off their alluring first-time-out achievement, the Nineteens manage a wry grin (rocking out Madonna's "Angel" and stringing together Eddie Van titles for "Ease It Halen"), pricking a good-sized hole in the velvet firewall of detached seriousness shielding many groups that let their distortion pedals do the talking.

The EP contains two versions of "My Aquarium," a casually crummy cover of Barry Manilow's "Mandy" and two new originals: the evocatively undulating "Nausea" and Ackell's surprisingly thin "Movie."

When next heard from, the Drop Nineteens was an almost completely different band. With Kelley gone off to lead her own Hot Rod and the other two just gone, only Ackell and bassist Steve Zimmerman remain. Producing themselves and drafting three replacements to fill the leavers' instrumental roles (including neophyte guitarist/singer Megan Gilbert as the new Kelley), the pair made National Coma, an indistinct indie-rock drag that exhibits substantial effort in the writing of offbeat lyrics but doesn't try hard enough to shape the music into any particular or compelling style. Gone are the expansive distortion paintings and the acoustic schoolyard exercises; the electric guitar aggression is snarlier, used to scratch out jagged edges rather than heap on mounds of cotton wool. National Coma would have been a promising debut; as a sophomore album, it's a disappointing setback. And that was enough: Ackell and drummer Pete Koeplin went on to form a new trio, Fidel.

Surprisingly, Hot Rod's Speed Danger Death is a Juliana Hatfield soundalike. Joined by a drummer, bassist and guitarist, Kelley copies the other's melodic habits and coquettish vocal mannerisms on conceptually kindred songs like "Liar's Liar," "Candy Star" and "Perplexed," delivered in alternately gentle and fervid electro-pop arrangements. Taken on its own terms, Speed Danger Death is a perfectly pleasing blend of sweet and salty-a quintessential rush of modern New England power-pop, but it's hard to hear it without flashing on Hey Babe, and that takes some of the fun out of the ride.

[Ira Robbins]