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Hearts and Flowers for 'Rotten Love'?

February 23, 2006 By:
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My Groundhog Day party was a hit. Always is. Every year. Like clockwork.

With a little inspiration, we can turn any calendar anomaly into a holiday, and any holiday into an event. TuB'Shevat seder. Purimschpiel. "Do Business in Your Bathrobe Day." Even Super Bowl Sunday can be fun once you turn off the TV and dig into the hummus.

There isn't a drop of Irish in me, but I'm sure that when St. Patrick's Day rolls around, people will comment on whatever bit of green I happen to be wearing. Any excuse for a good time, then people will run with it.

Except Valentine's Day. Last year, I got a box of chocolate truffles from a great guy. This year, everyone in the world made a pact not to mention the holiday to me.

I don't mean to kvetch. Not having a sweetheart on Feb. 14 really wasn't so bad. Instead, I came home from work and stayed up all night listening to "Rotten Love," the compelling debut from New York four-piece Levy. It hit the spot.

The title track puts a very specific spin on a universal sentiment. Singer James Levy - the band's namesake - asks his girlfriend to go to a party with him, but she shoots him down. He doesn't know it yet, but she's already left him for the host. It's tricky to find the intersection of edgy and earnest, but Levy does it, perfectly balancing the pathos with an unlikely sweetness.

And somehow, he manages to name names without kissing and telling. Given how small the dating pool is for New York hipsters, it's not hard to read between the lines to figure out what betrayal he's singing about.

But you don't need any familiarity with the Lower East Side's minor rock royalty to feel where he's coming from; the band's post-Smiths brooding works even if you have no inclination for that sort of idle gossip. (Still, it's a good thing I do, otherwise what would I have to atone for every year?)

Levy's a pathetic but appealing figure, even when he's not the one being rejected.

On "Wednesday" and "Sunday School," he sings about his best friend's death from an overdose. Just when all that heartbreak makes us long for an escape, Levy's survivor's guilt makes that route seem more like an emergency exit.

But if his deep, resigned voice seems destined to impart relentlessly bleak lyrics, the music provides some relief. Matthew Siskin's cheerful guitar brightens "In the Woods," and "Rivka" quickens the pulse courtesy of drummer Mike Jones.

Levy starts a mini-residency on Thursday, Feb. 23, at Philly's Manhattan Room, and they'll be back March 9 and March 23. Three shows in a month? Smells like a calendar anomaly to me. Pass the hummus.

• • •

Here's a great way to get musicians all over the country to buy your albums: Give them the stage when you come to town. At least that's Ariel Pink's strategy.

At 27, he's old enough to go out and young enough to stay out, but Pink (nee Rosenberg) spends a lot of time holed up at home with his toys. Playing guitar, bass and keyboards (and using his mouth for percussion), the prolific L.A. native crafts '70s-influenced pop gems like a seasoned tunesmith - and then mixes them like a primitive.

The result's an acquired taste, the audio equivalent of distressed jeans. Some people see expensive ripped denim and scoff that their kid could make holes in the knees for free; others are willing to shell out the big bucks for something that's torn and faded in all the right places.

If you can get past the fuzzy, hissy production, songs like "Helen" and "Jules Lost His Jewels" will win you over with their sweet melodies and contagious giddiness. But it's hard for even the hardest-working bedroom auteur to recreate all those sounds alone in a strange city - and that's where local bands come in. Here's how it works: In each city he plays, the first band to e-mail Pink's publicist gets to be his crew for the night.

Genius, gimmick or both?

Go to the Khyber this Saturday night and see for yourself.

 

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