IN THESE days of hip-hop, synth-pop, rap/metal hybrids and other machine-tooled sounds, the guitar-based rock identified with the '60s might seem an endangered species. The gene pool is sturdy, though, as demonstrated by recent discs from the following young bands, three of which will be performing in Washington.
BLEACHED BLACK --
"Bleached Black" (Relativity 88561-8151-1). Asymmetrically melodic songs like "I Was in Your Life" show Bleached Black's kinship with the oblique folk-rock of fellow Connecticut bands like Dumptruck and Miracle Legion. Much of this New Haven trio's material has a harder, more insistent edge to it, though. "Wrist-Slashing Romance," for example, recalls the over-the-top pop of Husker Du. Guitarist Stevo dishes up the raw and the cooked with equal assurance, and the songs he writes with bassist Greg Prior are tartly tuneful.
FAITH NO MORE --
"Introduce Yourself" (Slash 25559-1). On songs like "Faster Disco," this genre-busting California quintet, appearing Saturday at the 9:30 Club, is a heavy-guitar hard-rock band. Bassist Bill Gould and drummer Mike Bordin know their funk moves, though, and the band has integrated rap into its arsenal, notably on the cult hit "We Care a Lot," which was re-recorded for this platter. These inheritors of punk's smart-alecky attitude don't really care a lot about "the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines," of course, but their own firepower is impressive indeed. Chuck Mosley's run-on lyrics sometimes may be hard to follow, but the band's bruising sound is always lucid.
FIRE TOWN --
"In the Heart of the Heart Country" (Atlantic 81754-1). A title like that warns of a band that wears its heartland on its sleeve, and lyrically this Wisconsin foursome does indeed belabor its dairy-land heritage. If its images -- fire and rain, lonesome highways and cold, dark fields -- are as corny as Kansas in August, Fire Town's crisply constructed and arranged songs are more than adequate compensation. With its understated but ingratiating melodies and bittersweet sense of loss, "Heart Country" sounds like a country cousin of Tommy Keene's underrated "Songs from the Film." From the Beatlesque "naa naa naas" of "Places to Run" to the chiming guitars of "The Mystery Field," this is as clean and refreshing as a cold glass of milk.
HUGO LARGO --
"Drum" (Relativity 88561-8167-4). Led by ethereal girl Mimi Goese, this New York quartet comes with the imprimatur of R.E.M's Michael Stipe, who produced half the record's six tracks and warbled along on "Eureka." The band, which will open for the Feelies Thursday, July 2, at the 9:30 Club, sounds a bit like a homegrown version of England's stately, soaring Cocteau Twins. Named after the percussion that doesn't appear till the EP's final cut, "Drum" features various stringed instruments supporting Goese's agile soprano on five wispy originals and the Kinks' "Fancy"; in its low-key way, the sound can be quite beguiling.
TRUE WEST --
"Hand of Fate" (CD CD041). Once the central California outpost of the "paisley underground," this Davis band has adopted a more straightforward approach for its third disc. Where the group's debut included a song from Pink Floyd's early, acid-saturated period, this one features "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," a classic from the Yardbirds, the band that trailblazed the hard-rock guitar rave-up. Three members of this quartet play guitar at least some of the time, and the lead guitarists from Rain Parade and Green On Red also add some licks. The massed axes sound fine, but minus founder Russ Tolman, the westerners have devised a mostly ordinary set of originals; a few more melodies as catchy as "Waved Me By" would have helped. True West appears Friday at the 9:30 Club.