Formed around 1990 and named after a suspected murderer mentioned on America’s Most Wanted, this Los Angeles quartet chronicles slacker life in its hometown with driving, edgy pop-rock that updates new wave bands like the Attractions, Yachts and Wall of Voodoo. The self-released Apartment Music cassette sets the tone for things to come, matching singer/songwriter/standup bassist Rob Zabrecky’s offbeat, literate lyrics about heartbreak and job woes with music that sometimes sounds like it’s about to boil over from pure tension. (Four of the tape’s seven songs were redone for Possum Dixon.)
Co-produced by Earle Mankey, Possum Dixon doesn’t stretch any musical boundaries, but the band’s songwriting skill and raw energy make up for that. Against the tight playing of drummer Richard Treuel and guitarists Robert O’Sullivan and Celso Chavez, Zabrecky projects both frustration and an odd sort of vulnerability when singing irresistible songs like “Watch the Girl Destroy Me.” And though he sometimes takes his twentysomething angst too seriously, “Nerves” and other numbers do a fair job of capturing what it’s like to be young, poor and alienated in the City of Angels. Sunshine or Noir? contains four new tracks (two of which appear on the next album) and an energetic live version of Possum Dixon‘s “In Buildings.”
Recorded as a trio with revolving drummers, Star Maps is a more mature effort than Possum Dixon, but lacks some of its predecessor’s raw energy. Rather than continue to churn out three-chord raveups, the band expands a bit stylistically — with mixed results. “Personals,” a haunting number about newspaper ads, packs a subtle if powerful punch, but “Reds” and others lack the earlier work’s bite. Though the stylistic expansion is admirable, Possum Dixon can’t disguise the fact that its basic strength remains stripped-down art-punk.