IF HAVING a viable recording industry means that local musicians, producers, and record companies are getting rich, then Washington's still doesn't qualify. If it means consistently releasing records of quality and vision, however, than D.C.'s disc biz is quite healthy, as this sampling of recent platters by local artists demonstrates.
DAG NASTY --
"Wig Out at Denkos" (Dischord 26). Maybe it's the acoustic guitar on "When I Move" or just that new singer Peter Cortner sounds a little thin, but this disc doesn't deliver the punch of its predecessor. Pop-punk guitarist Brian Baker is in top form, though, and when this quartet gets the balance right between thrash and melody on songs like "Fall," "Exercise" and -- especially -- "Wig Out at Denko's," Dag Nasty creates tough-edged thinking-man's power-pop that's virtually unequaled.
"Embrace" (Dischord 24). Anyone who's heard Minor Threat will instantly recognize the angry declamations of Embrace frontman and Threat vet Ian MacKaye. On this smart, savvy and exciting record, a posthumous release from a brief-lived band, Embrace matches Threat's breathtaking power but with a new-found subtlety and range in both music and lyrics. MacKaye's appealingly earnest sermonettes are at the center of these songs, but the best of them -- "Give Me Back," "Building," "No More Pain," "Money" -- are also driven by agile arrangements and Mike Hampton's expressive guitar embellishments. Even if this weren't on the studiously anti-commercial Dischord label, "Embrace" wouldn't be a crowd-pleaser: It's just too tart for a mainstream audience. Artistically, though, this is major-league stuff.
"Banging the Drum" (Dischord 25). Unlike many bands that have tried to armor-coat their style, this local quintet, one of the longest-lived "harDCore" outfits, has managed to assimilate heavy-metal guitar gambits without surrendering its personality. "Banging the Drum" (Side 1 recorded in London, Side 2 in Arlington) sounds great: hard-edged, confident, passionate. The songwriting isn't as dependable as the playing, though; the record needs more songs as memorable as "Walkin' by Myself."
MOE TUCKER --
"MoeJadKateBarry" (50 Skidillion Watts MOE 1). Making her return to live performance after nearly 15 years as a housewife, legendary Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker naturally takes top billing on this EP. Still, it's Jad Fair, leader of the bighearted local pop- anarchist combo, Half Japanese, who sings the record's four Reed (three Lou, one Jimmy) songs, and several other Half Japs also make guest appearances. On this release from punk-magician Penn (of & Teller) Jillette's new record label, Tucker and company don't rival their joyous recent show at the 9:30 club, but at times the pick-up quartet, which will perform Tuesday at d.c. space, approaches the Velvets' grungy grandeur.
VARIOUS ARTISTS --
"F-R-5" (Fetal). This compilation, so named because it's Fetal's fifth release, is the product of a Baltimore company, but most of the bands featured are from the Washington area. Like all such efforts, it's somewhat unfocused, but the quality of both musicianship and recording are surprisingly high. Among the best tracks are offerings from some who've recently released their own discs (Government Issue, Scream) and others making their vinyl debut (Press Mob, Broken Siren, Shudder to Think). In the in-between category is Strange Boutique (which plays this Tuesday at the Roxy); this skillful quartet has surrendered its old name (Madhouse, appropriated by Prince) and gained a new guitarist (Beefeater's Fred Smith) and yet "So Sweet" shows that singer Monica Richards still hasn't entirely paid off her debt to Siouxsie and the Banshees.