ROCK / Doin' it for themselves

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The Independent Culture
A SHORT history of twins in rock. In the mid-1940s Edgar and Johnny Winter were born, buttwo years apart. Forty years later, Bros happened. And now, we have Kim and Kelley Deal, of the funny and powerful US pop-noise quartet the Breeders. Kim is the musician of the pair - she made her name with Boston's twisted college-rock gods, the Pixies. Kelley on the other hand has only recently given up her day job as a computer analyst. Her one-fingered guitar style has been rather cruelly described by her twin as 'remedial', but in fact it's a good deal more effective than those of many more self-conscious virtuosi. When she sings it's in the same high rasp as her sister, and when their voices join up it's a little bit spooky.

The pair of them amble on stage at the Forum as if just back from a hard day's potato- picking, and chain-smoke and snipe cheerfully at each other throughout an intermittently ramshackle but always compelling performance. Their recent single, 'Cannonball', is the perfect example of the Breeders' innovative approach to song structure. First Kim growls 'Awooh awooh', then Josephine Wiggs sets up a jaunty bass loop, Kelley essays a slide- guitar wiggle and drummer Jim Macpherson pushes the whole thing along with a clattering beat. In the middle, Kim's savage rhythm guitar ratchets the tension up, only for a beautifully harmonised chorus to let it straight back down again.

A similarly playful spirit is at work in nearly all the songs they play from their fine second album, Last Splash (4AD). Given half a chance, this record sets up camp inside your brain, tent pegs of melody holding down some provocative conceptual guy-ropes: 'Motherhood means mental freeze,' sings unrepentent divorcee Kim in 'No Aloha'. The Breeders have had a mixed press lately, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's their willingness to take on masculine standards such as 'Happiness is a Warm Gun' (a real rarity this, a worthwhile Beatles cover) and Aerosmith's 'Lord of the Thighs', and make them their own, which unnerves people. Here they do a great job on both these songs, but it's the exhilarating, New Orderly melody of their own forthcoming single, 'Divine Hammer', that steals the night.

Go into a launderette, and climb into a dryer. Public Enemy and Metallica are in there with you, rehearsing. A strobe light flickers into life and someone hands you a petition. The drum starts to turn, and now you know what it feels like to be at a Senser concert. This ferocious and fast-rising Wimbledon team are seven in number. As well as the usual drummer, bass player and guitarist, they have an on-stage DJ, an off- stage knob-twiddler called Haggis and two vocalists - pocket dynamo rapper Heitham Al Sayed and singer and part-time flautist Kirsten. You'd think this mix would be hard to keep together, but musically they maintain a united front. Inside the Astoria II, an intimate new venue that is a big improvement on next door, they orchestrate a gentle riot of anti-fascist bouncing up and down.

Senser are just two singles old, but their instant energy rush and unhealthy fondness for hard work have already won them a substantial following. Now, they are threatening to break out of the crusty cocoon which has nurtured them. Their singles, 'Eject' and 'The Key', are overshadowed by unreleased material tonight, and the sheer power of their rhythmic assault carries you through the odd dull moment. Strangely for a band whose music has so many diverse influences (rave- minded political thrash-rap with occasional Middle Eastern inflections; now why didn't Billy Ray Cyrus think of that?), Senser's only weakness is that they can sound a bit one-dimensional. Sustaining their substantial impact over a full album will be a worthy challenge.

Doughty Southern Californians War were playing hopscotch across musical borderlines before Senser were born. They are hardly likely to be impressed by a rapper born in Abu Dhabi when they have Lee Oskar, the world's most celebrated Danish harmonica player, in their midst. The opening night of their week at the Jazz Cafe is War's first British engagement for 12 years, but they show no sign of jetlag.

This band are best known in this country for the immortal ''Low Rider', which they revisit at length, but there is more to them than that, and they prove it by gliding easily across an alarmingly broad stylistic spectrum. They shift without effort from electrifying street-funk to horrendous MTV soul - 'You should see the video we've done for this,' says Hawaiian-shirted singer and guitarist Howard Scott, 'it'll make you cry' - and then to a riotous Canned Heat-style boogie number. Their playing is supple and full of vitality; and if they come back here soon, well, all I am saying is give War a chance.

A spell of National Service might be just the thing for Pearl Jam. The Seattle rockers' grandly melodic debut Ten has outsold Nirvana's Nevermind, but Eddie Vedder is so fed up with being regarded as Pat Boone to Kurt Cobain's Elvis that his creative juices have gone sour. Pearl Jam's second album, Carrots (Epic, out now), is a grim piece of work, with only the occasional bright moment - such as the plaintive opening to 'Daughter' - to hint at the swirling tunefulness of its predecessor. Most of the rest is medium-grade heavy metal with an unwelcome overlay of pretension, sort of Iron Maiden trying to be REM. Oh, and it's not actually called Carrots; but given that the band are too precious to put the title (which was last alleged to be Vs) on the cover, it might as well be.

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