Lessons in "Astronomy"

Locals Hierophant officially release their debut full-length, Popular Astronomy, on Friday at the Mad Hatter in Covington. In keeping with a "Friday the 13th" theme, the band is joined by The Thirte

Locals Hierophant officially release their debut full-length, Popular Astronomy, on Friday at the Mad Hatter in Covington. In keeping with a "Friday the 13th" theme, the band is joined by The Thirteens and Le TechnoPUSS13S. The group's spark was first kindled over a decade ago when guitarist Chris Storms (then with legendary local trio Ditchweed) and singer Brad Bowman (formerly of Razor Smile and fresh from a stint in Austin, Texas) started writing and recording together. Bassist Scott Fuhr (it should be noted that all of the members share singing, writing and instrumental duties, so "bassist" is a relative term) teamed with Bowman in 1999 to form a "full working band" and Bob White (also referred to as "Roberto Blanco") cemented the lineup in 2000. The group's first release was the 2003 EP, Portals.

Flexibility and diversity are the keys to the success of Popular Astronomy, which pulls influence from the full spectrum of Rock & Roll and then stitches it all back together so they are barely recognizable. Most bands that do this either end up sounding like lost musical tourists ("Here's our Surf song ... here's our Ska song ...") or come up with something so far-reaching and esoteric it's alienating. Popular Astronomy is challenging but far from impenetrable; even with the multifaceted input from each member, a "Hierophant sound" is definitely achieved. It's a weird, almost otherworldly brand of Rock, but the "live" feel of the album gives it a captivating intimacy and the strong but slanted melodicism adds to the allure. While kaleidoscopic, winding and occasionally busy, the album in never jarringly off-the-wall, as the fluid writing creates an streaming, natural flow.

The band is wildly imaginative, coloring each of the album's 15 tracks with varying hues that constantly keep you guessing what's coming next. The songwriting seethes elasticity, as does just about everything else on Popular Astronomy. The guitars shift from textural atmospherics to soulful Hendrixian flutter to buzzing, grungy Post Punk rumble (to name but a few touchstones), while the versatile, time-changing drumming provides so much more than just a simple backbone. The vocal-sharing makes it difficult to tell who's singing what without a scorecard, but all of the singing is impressive and the vocalists do a fantastic job of adjusting their voices to the mood of the song.

Popular Astronomy is an album you can get lost in, the type of CD you'd give any of your friends who claim that Rock & Roll is played out and stuck in a boring rut. It's a bit early, but Hierophant's first long-player is already a strong contender to be one of finest locally produced discs of 2006. (hierophantsound.com)

More Local Notes
· The "Jazz Alive" concert series continues Saturday at the Fairfield Community Arts Center at 8 p.m. This time out, the every-other-month series spotlights The Jazz Youngbloods, an eclectic collection of some of the best young players in the area. The group features saxophonist Janelle Reichman, trumpeter/flugelhornist Mario Abney, pianist William Menefield, bassist Steve Whipple and drummer Anthony T. Lee. Music starts at 8 p.m. For more info, go to jazzalive.info.

· Backseat Virtue, featuring local music vet Jeff Conner (JC3) and former Sinamatic singer Chrissy Gardner, join former Cherry Bang frontman Billy Carri and Baltimore-based Columbia Records signees Plunge at Downtown's The Poison Room (formerly The Viper Room) this Sunday for an all-ages show. Backseat Virtue is currently working on their debut CD (due in the spring), while Carri is also readying his first solo album. Carri also joins Plunge Saturday for a free acoustic in-store performance at Phil's Records in Latonia, Ky., starting at 2 p.m. (backseatvirtue.com; backseatvirtue.com)

· Friday at the Southgate House, it's an eclectic night of diverse modern "Roots" music, as local faves Moonlight Graham and The Gregory Morris Group are joined by Oxford up-and-comers Sohio and Chicago Americana duo The Spares. Show starts at 9 p.m.

CONTACT MIKE BREEN: mbreen(at)citybeat.com

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