"In Exile Deo"



"Bastards of the Beat"

Red Ink/Epic

Addiction is the metaphor that Juliana Hatfield returns to again and again on her haunting new album, "In Exile Deo." The Boston alt-rocker fears that her ex-lover will spot her binge-fueled, bloodshot eyes in "Jamie's in Town"; in "Forever," she tries to quit a relationship after "just one more"; on "Because We Love You," she confesses to putting "a monkey on my back" to win a father's attention.

The sources for these songs are not as important as the clear-eyed perspective Hatfield brings to the dynamics of emotional dependency and its chemical counterpart. She captures that tug of war so many of us feel when we are torn between the remembered bliss of a tortured relationship and the tantalizing promise of normalcy. Both that bliss and that promise are truly alluring thanks to Hatfield's seductively girlish soprano as well as her rare gift for hummable melodies and catchy guitar figures.

Hatfield's compressed, echo-heavy production evokes the claustrophobic atmosphere of emotional or substance addiction. "I still love my enemy," she warbles on "My Enemy," conveying both the affection and the enmity. Her lovely soprano lifts falteringly, but a dark, brooding organ threatens to pull her back down into the quagmire.

The Damnwells have the proper alt-country pedigree: Drummer Steven Terry played with Whiskeytown; guitarist Dave Chernis played with Tandy and Star City; and singer-songwriter Alex Dezen sounds like a cross between Jay Farrar and Howe Gelb. The Brooklyn quartet's first full-length album, "Bastards of the Beat," is a worthy example of the roots-rock genre without distinguishing itself from its predecessors.

Dezen comes up with ear-grabbing, Neil Youngish guitar riffs and some lilting melodies (especially on the love song "I Will Keep the Bad Things From You" and the Replacements' knockoff "Kiss Catastrophe"). But his tenor is too cramped and his lyrics too earnest and elliptical for these songs to really catch fire.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Tuesday at Fletcher's and Thursday at IOTA. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Juliana Hatfield, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8124. To hear the Damnwells, press 8125. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)