Music Features

Rhode Island: Small State, Big Sounds


Six Star General: "Spaceship to Planet Cookie" (75orLess Records)

Sweetthieves (pictured above): "Blood & Curses" (Self-released)

As the smallest state in the union, Rhode Island (and its notoriously callous citizens) is usually associated with headline-fodder like leading the country with not only the highest unemployment rate but drunk-driving accidents as well, along with incessant, century-old political corruption and ongoing contaminated beaches every summer (the irony ain't lost on our official nickname-- 'The Ocean State'). On a positive note, we boast a burgeoning music community that continues to reinvent itself and steadfastly refusing to play the role as a sonic afterthought of neighboring Boston and developing off the foundation built particularly by early 90's indie phenoms like Sub Pop's Six Finger Satellite and legendary noisemongers such as Arab on Radar and Lightning Bolt. As local music editor of one of those 'alt-weekly' rags, sometimes a song or CD can still stop you in your tracks and make you think, “Where the fuck was I when these guys first came out?” Such is the case with two bands from The Biggest Little State in the Union-- Six Star General and the now-defunct Sweetthieves, both reveling in recent releases which happen to be their best works yet.

Spaceship to Planet Cookie is the fifth studio release from barroom rock trio Six Star General, and their affinity for sub-two minute jams a la Minutemen and a predilection for Husker Du and Dinosaur Jr is way apparent; on cuts like the opening Amperes are Live, Tree Partner and Dan Halen (each clocking in under 90 seconds, and the entire album under 28 minutes), one would assume that bassist (and 75orLess Records CEO) Mark MacDougall was sporting one of Mike Watt's sweaty flannels in the studio. The album's centerpiece arrives with Ode to Cheryl Ladd and Fixin' The Fan With Bo, both of which clock in closer to the four-minute range, which allows time for the track to ascend, and of course are well-complemented with plenty of wah-wah and drunken fuzz. Hell, referring to Six Star General as 'garage rock' may seem too formal; Six Star General is like a wobbly, weed-and-PBR stained awning housing a pristine '78 Gremlin. (7/10)

Thanks for the memories, Sweetthieves. You're fucking killing me, calling it quits weeks in advance of releasing your sophomore effort Blood & Curses, not exactly a textbook lesson in marketing and promotion. But, going out on top ain't so bad either as Blood & Curses is a must-have rock album that culls their long-lost, mid-90's indie icons that some of us still sorely miss. In fact, I was so enamored with this album I publicly hailed it as the local album of the year in Lil Rhody-- it's that good. We're talking about combining the indie-rawk elements of bands like Jawbox, Boston's Dambuilders (lead singer Dave Martinka's voice reminds me of Dambuilder ex-frontman Dave Derby) as well as the ape-shit rhythms of The Jesus Lizard, all wrapped in a pretty package courtesy of Sweetthief Hilary Jones, who is a bass-slapping beast and interlocks with drummer Mike Viele, who replaced original drummer Jay Mayoh following their acclaimed 2006 debut View From A Glass Tower

The oft-mentioned Sleater-Kinney references are also valid when Jones lends vocals to mid-album gems Anchor and Phantom (Jones drops the fucking hammer here, like throwing her bass off a cliff) and takes full command on Pedestal. The slinky and evil bassline on the album opener Bullet recalls Liar-era Jesus Lizard, bombastic and contagious. Have I namedropped enough bands to convince you that you're sleeping on Sweetthieves? Get a hold of a song like Reactance, or better yet let the opening groove lure you in before the beat kicks in out of nowhere like an unexpected, neck-snapping two-handed shove in the back as Martinka howls like a passive-aggressive boyfriend, “I'm saving it all/ To give to you-- at a later date.” Unfortunately for us, there is no later date for Sweetthieves, who decided to give us their all on Blood & Curses and pull the plug. (8/10)