Neurotic and noisy, this Pittsburgh trio pins Violent Femmes-styled coitus-pining to spiralling guitar sallies that are strongly reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr, a combination that allows singer/guitarist Karl Hendricks to divest himself of his surplus anxiety in half the time. Buick Elektra was recorded shortly after Hendricks split his old band, Sludgehammer — the name pretty much tells the whole story — and consequently suffers from a surplus of extraneous skronk. That’s a drag, since a few of the tracks (notably the argumentative “Dumber Than I Look”) reveal him to be an unusually self-aware writer. As evidenced by the deconstruction of the Rolling Stones’ “She Was Hot,” he’s also saddled with an intrinsically indie-rock penchant for machine-gunning sitting ducks. (The Grass reissue adds “I Hate This Party” from a ’91 7-inch.)
There’s a lot less smirking on Some Girls Like Cigarettes, which seems to move from one shade of gray to the next as Hendricks rambles from lamenting his lack of action (“Pittsburgh’s Hottest Babes”) to reliving the kind of pre-adolescent loneliness that never fully recedes (the touching “Baseball Cards”). Bassist Tim Parker and drummer Tom Hoffman stay out of the way of guitar lines that flutter erratically and — at least on the album-closing “How’s the Cat?” — engagingly. True to its title, The Karl Hendricks Trio Sings About Misery and Women concentrates on tunes concerning those two subjects — and a considerable area of overlap that seems to have enmeshed Hendricks. He’s not too given to metaphor, as evidenced by gushings that range from maudlin self-pity (“Do You Like to Watch Me Sob?”) to self-aware indignation (“You’re a Bigger Jerk Than Me”). This time around, however, the trio stifles its all-noise all-the-time posturing enough to allow delicate melodies like the piano-laced “Flowers Avenue” to shine through.
Maybe the full-throttle playing he’s asked to contribute to The(e) Speaking Canaries (in which he serves as bassist) has given Hendricks enough of an opportunity to pump up the volume, since A Gesture of Kindness is markedly more refined than its predecessors. It’s not exactly mellow — check the raveup ending of “Breathtaking First Novel” — but the album makes it explicit that Hendricks isn’t as afraid to grow up as the bulk of his bermuda-shorted peers.