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BASS NEEDS

Local quartet Sketching in Stereo will release their debut CD, Fools Love Charades, this week. (We got an advance copy, so we're not sure on what label, if any, it's being released.) The band includes former Gorilla Behind Bars frontman Rob Howlett on vocals and guitar, guitarist Ryan Maziarz and drummer Charlie Hamilton.

A while back, a week before the band's first scheduled show, the members were fretting about their need for a bassist. In the band's bio, Howlett is quoted as saying about the quandary, "I wanted to have bass. I realize that only a third of the population knows it exists, but when it's not there, everyone knows something is missing."

Their friend Chris Romero, who was not yet a member, approached them at a house party and presented them with an idea: "I told them, 'Hey, just let me play bass on my keyboard.' They didn't immediately jump at the idea, but seriously, how hard could it be? The Doors did it, right?" He played that first show as a tryout of sorts, and soon after became a permanent member, playing both bass and keyboards.

The band's music, as demonstrated on Fools Love Charades, is fairly run-of-the-mill alternative fare, with fully formed melodies along the lines of Foo Fighters, but Howlett's vocals add another dimension. He's a pretty adaptive singer, by turns crooning in '80s New Romantic mode, falsetto and standard gruff-rock fashion, sometimes within the same song, as he does on the album's opening track, "Interloper." The majority of songs are based around guitar riffs and vocal melodies, but the keyboard offers another layer of texture, as on "Empty Guarantees." Fools Love Charades likely won't change anyone's life, but, most impressively, many of these songs wouldn't sound out of place if KFMA sneaked them into rotation between Hoobastank and The Killers--not bad for a debut album.

Sketching in Stereo celebrate the release of Fools Love Charades with a CD release party at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Wednesday, Feb. 21. Lo Mass Republic open the show at 9 p.m. Cover is $3. For more information, call 622-8848.


PREPARE FOR THE SPLASH

The best (semi-) local album I've heard in a while comes courtesy of Phoenix's Asleep in the Sea. The problem is, you can't buy it, because it hasn't been released yet; Avenue will be released in the spring on California Beach Club, a new label started by The Solace Bros. ' singer-keyboardist Dan Naiman, and I feel lucky to have a copy of it in my grubby paws as we speak. Lucky because, frankly, it's awesome.

The trio is composed of guitarist Tom Filardo, keyboardist Owen Evans and drummer Eli Kuner. As their bio says, "All three sing, and all three laugh." As with so many bands coming out of Phoenix these days, the group plays a brand of quirky pop that incorporates so many influences, it would be dizzying if it didn't work so damn well. The band's dynamics will have you comparing them to Queen one minute, the Beach Boys the next. "Cancer and Bones," for example, starts out on a Weezer tip before a quiet interlude that includes exquisite vocal harmonies, then finishes up with a bit of Queen bombast. It's just more than two minutes long, which is typical of the entirety of the album: Just as you're settling in to the multiple hooks and changes of any particular song, it's finishing up, and you're onto the next. Elsewhere, you'll find snippets of bossa nova, a cappella segments, surf-rock guitar and faux hip-hop-style shout-outs.

With all that going for Asleep in the Sea, yet another of their aces in the hole is the band's vocals. With three singers--each of whom can truly sing--the members alternate turns at the mic throughout the album, occasionally manipulating their voices through the magic of electronic gizmos, and offer up some of the finest harmonies I've heard in a while.

And though the band clearly has chops, they never take themselves too seriously. Their music is imbued with a sense of humor throughout Avenue, though none of it can be written off as joke-rock.

As long as it gets in the right hands, expect Avenue to make a loud splash when it's finally released. In the meantime, you can check out why I'm so excited about Asleep in the Sea when they perform at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Saturday, Feb. 17. They'll take the middle slot, in between headliners The Jons and openers The Solace Bros., who kick things off at 9:30 p.m. Cover is $5. Call 798-1298 for further details.


HOMECOMING THAT'S AN ILLUSION

Former Tucsonan Mark Matos, best known as the mastermind behind the shambolic sounds of the Giant Sand-inspired Campo Bravo, is now living in San Francisco, where, as he wrote us in a recent e-mail, he's "holed up in a residential hotel in Tenderloin Heights." The enigmatic rover has a new band, Mark Matos and His Grand Illusions, which he'll be bringing to town this week. By the time he gets here, he should be finished recording a new album with the band, which he cut in Denver with producer Chris Adolf, and which is expected to include appearances from members of DeVotchKa and Neutral Milk Hotel. Of the new album, he says, "It will be a record with a bit more zing than anything I've done. I am picking up the pace. A little exuberance to balance out the dark and ominous."

Be sure to give Mark Matos and His Grand Illusion the ol' Tucson welcome when they perform at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Friday, Feb. 16. Naim Amor opens at 9:45 p.m., followed by Golden Boots. Admission is a fiver. Call 798-1298 with questions.


ON THE BANDWAGON

Timed to coincide with rodeo week, Waylon's son Shooter Jennings will perform his brand of Southern rock and outlaw country songs next Thursday, Feb. 22, at Cactus Moon, 5470 E. Broadway Blvd. Advance tickets are available for $10 at the venue or KIIM FM 99.5 during business hours. They'll be $12 on the day of show. Call 748-0049 for more information.

The originator of the high-lonesome sound, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley will celebrate his 80th birthday later this month. He's stopping in town this week to show the whippersnappers how it's done. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Band perform at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Friday, Feb. 16. The all-ages show begins at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $25 (reserved floor seats) and $21 (reserved balcony seats) at the venue, online at rialtotheatre.com, or by calling 740-1000. Call that same number for further details.

If you were thinking about heading out this week to see either AFI at the Rialto or Willie Nelson at Desert Diamond Casino, we've got a bit of news for you: Unless you already have a ticket in hand, you're out of luck. Both shows have been sold out for weeks.

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