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STRANGELY UPLIFTING MELANCHOLY

The members of Portland, Ore.'s Norfolk and Western are no strangers to Tucson. The band performed in Tucson last summer as part of the TapeOpCon music showcase, and more recently, some of its members could be found backing M. Ward at his Rialto Theatre show a month ago.

The group began as a name for singer-guitarist Adam Selzer's solo work but has since evolved into a seven-piece band that now includes drummer-singer Rachel Blumberg (the former drummer for the Decemberists), Dave Depper (bass, piano, vocals), Peter Broderick (violin, saw, banjo, accordion), Cory Gray (trumpet, piano), Amanda Lawrence (viola) and guitarist Tony Moreno. Selzer owns and operates the Type Foundry Recording Studio, which makes sense when you hear the immaculately produced The Unsung Colony (Hush), Norfolk and Western's latest album, which was released at the end of October.

The album opens and closes with the sound of film being threaded through a projector, appropriate for the lush, cinematic tales of melancholy that fall between. Which isn't to say the album is a bummer--far from it. Though the songs are frequently downcast, they're also strangely uplifting, in the same way that Mercury Rev's later work is. Opener "The Longest Stare," in fact, with its alternately ascending and descending piano chord progressions, wouldn't sound out of place on one of that band's albums. It's followed by a companion song of sorts called "The Shortest Stare," whose mid-tempo jauntiness gives way to a distorted guitar melody that teeters on feedback. Next up is "Barrels on Fire," which starts out sounding a bit like a Sufjan Stevens ballad before it abandons lyrics early on for a lengthy instrumental section that features a gorgeous string section, tinkling piano and choir-like wordless vocals.

All in all, The Unsung Colony is a small chamber-folk-pop stunner, all busy arrangements that service the songs rather than distract from them; if that description turns you off, you should know that it doesn't shy away from the occasional foray into noise, too, as on the middle section of "The New Rise of Labor," which is otherwise a mostly bouncy pop song. In an age of iPods--that is, favoring songs instead of albums--The Unsung Colony is a reminder that some collections of songs are best listened to from start to finish, as a complete work of art, which this album certainly is.

Norfolk and Western perform at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Tuesday, Nov. 28. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. with opening sets from Corrina Repp and Luca. Cover is a paltry $5. Call 798-1298 for more information.


LIVE MATING!

As great as Mates of State--the duo comprising singer-keyboardist Kori Gardner and singer-drummer Jason Hammel--are on their recordings, they're best experienced in a live setting. The couple, who are partners both in and out of music, lock their eyes on one another, and it's hard to tell if that's a mechanism of reading each other within a song, or if they're merely gazing longingly at each other. It's probably a bit of both. Regardless, they trade in infectious, bouncy indie-pop tunes with dynamic shifts and lovely harmonies; they manage to coax a rather large swath of sounds out of only two instruments. Their most recent album, Bring It Back, was released on the can-do-no-wrong Barsuk label, and this week, they'll be in town performing songs from it.

Catch Mates of State when they play an early, all-ages show at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Sunday, Nov. 26. The excellent Asobi Seksu open at 7 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $10 at Zia Records or online at hotelcongress.com, and they'll be $2 more on the day of the show. For further details, call 622-8848.


ROCK WITH YOUR GOBLIN OUT

Lord Phallus. Bane Ass-Pounder. King Sith. Braindeath. Loki Sinjuggler. These five souls call themselves Goblin Cock, and as you might have guessed, they're not exactly highbrow. What they are, in fact, is a doom-metal parody band that includes Pinback's Rob Crow. (He's the aforementioned Lord Phallus.) Think GWAR without the fake blood and elaborate costumes. (Actually, I've never seen them perform, so they just might have fake blood and elaborate costumes.)

They'll be in town this week along with Pleaseeasaur, a one-man band (real name: Thomas Hurley III or J.P. Hasson, depending on whom you ask) who does indeed have elaborate costumes, as well as some of the goofiest, most absurd comedy songs you'll ever hear. Some song titles will give you a hint of where he's coming from, so I present to you: "Bowl Noodle Hot," "A Cougar Named Darryll," "Warning: These Cobras Are Totally Cool" and "Strangers Have the Best Candy." You'll either love this guy or want to throw rancid food at him.

Goblin Cock and Pleaseeasaur perform at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., next Thursday, Nov. 30. Things should get rolling around 8 p.m., and cover is a fiver. Questions? 622-8848 is the number to call for answers.


ON THE BANDWAGON

The Handsome Family is husband-and-wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks, who specialize in highly literate, gothic country tales of modern angst and ennui with an old-timey sound. Touring in support of Last Days of Wonder, their most recent album on Carrot Top, they'll stop in Tucson on Friday, Nov. 24, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Loveland opens at 9:30 p.m. Advance tix are available for $8 at virtuous.com; they'll be $10 at the door. Call 798-1298 for more info.

Two electro-pop wizards--Thomas Dolby, who made his name in the '80s with the megahit "She Blinded Me With Science," and BT, who made his name via electronic dance music and remixes a decade later--will team up for a show at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress, next Thursday, Nov. 30. Showtime is 8 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $18 at the venue's box office; they'll be $20 on the day of the show. Call 740-1000 for more details.

The Rialto's also got a four-band modern rock bill sure to appeal to kids of all ages--or at least those who regularly listen to KFMA. Los Angeles' Sugarcult headlines, and the openers are The Pink Spiders, Damone and Meg and Dia. The all-ages show starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28, and you can pick up advance tix for $15 at the venue's box office. Expect to pay $1 more at the door. See above for address and phone number.

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