Various Artists

H.E.A.R. This

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This compilation, benefiting San Francisco's "Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers," is an odd mix of a few very old and a lot of very new punk/indie bands, mostly from the Bay Area. Of the recent stuff, a lot of it is too by-the-book, too dull en masse (if spirited). The best of the lot is the melody-moving McRackins, the pesky power of Piss Ant, the garage dirt of the Dimwits, the shimmering politeness of Japan's Shonen Knife, and the scatterbrain rush of Scared of Chaka. What's better is the half-dozen archetypal groups that wipe the floor with the remainder of their progeny here -- especially the Avengers, whose vicious 1977 ripper "Teenage Rebel" (from 1999's live retro Died for Your Sins) reminds they've never been equaled on this continent, outside of the early work by the Weirdos, D.O.A., and Bad Brains. But H.E.A.R. This deserves praise for its fascination with unfairly forgotten, fantastic old farts. It's great to re-encounter S.F.-by-way-of-Seattle's the Lewd, one of the funniest, cleverest, and overlooked groups of the time. "Climate of Fear," from 1981's hilarious, insightful American Wino, is all the proof needed. (Investigate "Mobile Home" and "I'm Not Pretty," too.) Likewise, the tough sounds of the Nyna Crawford-led Vktms is a blast from an exciting past; the Contractions recall a faster Blondie, and stalwart old friends Toxic Reasons bring back the scene's last great gasp circa 1985. Only historic '77 scene pioneer Mary Monday seems dated, thanks to screeching, tuneless vocals like a drunken Courtney Love. One hopes this CD sends folks hunting for these under-celebrated greats, and their equally fine S.F. peers Crime, Negative Trend, Nuns, Mutants, Flipper, Dead Kennedys, and Offs. And may it help raise awareness for music-related hearing-damage issues, too.

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