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VON BONDIES (Buy CDs by this artist)
Lack of Communication (Sympathy for the Record Industry) 2001
Raw and Rare (In the Act/Dim Mak) 2003
Pawn Shoppe Heart (Sire) 2004

Although bands associated with the term "garage" often sound amateurish but energetic, the Von Bondies — participants in the Detroit garage revival of the early '00s — merit only the latter half of that description, mixing it up with a strong knowledge of punk, R&B and rock'n'roll. True to Motor City rock tradition, the group also has a distinct musical identity. On the debut, Lack of Communication, the Bondies perform singer/guitarist Jason Stollsteimer's quality songs with skill and intensity. The title track and "It Came From Japan" start the album off and set its tone with fuzzed-out guitars and upbeat tempos. "Lack of Communication" begins with a throbbing bass and a rapid tom rhythm before the distorted guitar uses descending whole notes to show that this band is more about attitude than aggression. Stollsteimer's lyrics agree, as he sings, "I am the only Mona Lisa." The Von Bondies acknowledge that this pose is a bit of a front for insecurity. On "Please Please Man," Stollsteimer asks, "Do you like me at all?" The sparse music keeps his fear at the fore of the song. Not every track works as well, but none is dull. The Von Bondies aren't striving for innovation here, but they do have the beginnings of a sound, notwithstanding a clear debt to '60s punk and psychedelia. Produced by Jim Diamond of the Dirtbombs and Jack White of the White Stripes, the album has poor sound quality that is right for the aesthetic but obscures some solid playing.

Raw and Rare is a live album compiled from three BBC performances in 2001 and 2002. Seven tracks are raucous renditions of Lack of Communication songs; a few of the previously unrecorded tunes, especially "R & R Nurse," show the band in top form.

The Von Bondies finally get the clear sound they deserve on Pawn Shoppe Heart (Diamond did a few tracks, but Jerry Harrison oversaw the production). The Bondies still rely on overdriven guitars for their sound, which peaks with the single "C'mon C'mon." This track opens with a single-note guitar riff before unleashing a post-grunge hook. The band uses dynamics well without overdoing crescendos. Stollsteimer has a newfound swagger in his voice, which is a boon, as is the punk-glam sensibility that seeps in. Elevated style and confidence put an edge on songs like "Been Swank," a dismissive take on the Detroit hipster scene that sounds like a slower, snottier "Lack of Communication." Bassist Carrie Smith and guitarist Marcie Bolen add tight background vocals; the former sings lead on "Not That Social." The Von Bondies officially close this disc with "Pawn Shoppe Heart," mixing guitar solos, screams and tricky percussion into an intense few minutes. The bonus track's worth waiting for, though, as the group merges its garage and R&B influences on the dirtiest version of "Try a Little Tenderness" ever recorded.

[Justin Cober-Lake]