IN THE LINER notes to "Toast," all four members of Tar are identified (jokingly) as electric guitarists, which is a pretty accurate expression of the Chicago post-hardcore band's aesthetic. It also explains why "Clincher" (the song that provided the title for Tar's recent EP, but didn't appear on it) is the album's standout: A French horn's bleat duels with the guitars, distinguishing the brief near-instrumental from the edgy electric churning of the other nine songs.
Those bear such curiously suggestive titles as "Barry White," "Altoids, Anyone?" and "Testor's Choice," and follow the same strategy: Over a mid-tempo thump, John Mohr's and Mark Zablocki's gnashing, occasionally surging guitars create a palpable sense of tension. "Everybody says, 'slow down, relax,' " notes Mohr in "Giblets," but there's no chance of that on "Toast." This jumpy, uptight music is a two-guitar anxiety attack.
Girls Against Boys employs similar clashing electric timbres, but sometimes gives them a crabwalking swing that recalls the Fall. "Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby," the band's third album and first for Touch and Go, varies the tempo and mood more than does Tar: "Satin Down" is a sensual slow burn -- "I forget everything/ Everytime/I think about your skin," goes Scott McCloud's gravely coo -- while "Billy's One Stop" and "Let Me Come Back" are skittering romps.
This New York quartet (three of whose members were once in D.C.'s Soulside) started as a studio-only project with an experimental, collagistic style. Supervised by ex-Razz/Tommy Keene bassist and Fugazi producer Ted Nicely, "Venus" still bristles with odd squeals and buzzes, but it gives them some needed shape and drive (as well as a vivid drum sound). "Everybody wanna live that sexy ride," proclaims the propulsive "Bulletproof Cupid," and the best songs here live up to that motto.
TAR -- "Toast" (Touch and Go). To hear a Sound Bite from this album, call 202/334-9000 and press 8133.
GIRLS AGAINST BOYS -- "Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby" (Touch and Go). For a Sound Bite, press 8134. Both appearing Wednesday at the 9:30 club.