Given the name and jokey trappings, it’s no small surprise that this Philadelphia quartet can really play. If the songs on Playdoh Meathook — a clear self-produced rip of punk-pop guitars, strong melodies and easily understood vocals — were a couple of notches cleverer, this would be an impressive debut. (A goofy version of “Norwegian Wood” also falls just short.)
Produced with Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo (known for his work with Schoolly-D), Rassafranna all but eliminates ELM’s punk element in favor of a loud, tight rock sound that meanders between the Replacements and charged jangle-pop, with excursions into not-exactly-soul, loopy cow-punk and Meat Puppets territory, instrumentally (“Club Car”) and songwise (“Down Easy”). Overall, the material is strong: “Diamonds & Glass” is the kind of song that would sound great on acoustic guitar, while “Drunk & Horny” is funny for all the right reasons.
Rejoining its original label, the Muffin (again with Nicolo) made Second Third Time Around, a fine, if slightly dispirited, seven-song return visit to the Midwest, Southwest and Motown styles explored on Rassafranna. In what is becoming the band’s formula, the record includes singer/guitarist Rich Kaufmann originals, an instrumental (“Mr. Softy’s Wild Ride”) and a cover (the Temptations’ “Get Ready”).