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The Mommyheads—Finest Specimens(Dromedary Records)

Tommy Keene—Do You Hear Me(Second Motion Records)

The Factory—The Factory(Acetate Records)

Finger—Still in Boxes: 1990-1993(Second Motion Records)

Last year, an installment of this column featured a roundup of 1990s titles by alternative rock bands that didn’t fall under the grunge banner many associate with the decade. Here’s four more...

The Mommyheads formed in 1987 at New York University and went on to release five acclaimed albums of their quirky Zappa/XTC/Camper Van Beethoven formula before clocking out in 1998. But nearly ten years later the group reunited to honor late drummer Jan Kotik with a new album and has been active ever since. The 21-track Finest Specimens resurrects standout moments from the early releases and rare live tunes. This stuff is often too brainy for its own good (can you say They Might Be Giants?), but if you’re looking for a stocking stuffer for your square-leaning brother-in-law, the Mommyheads’ nerdy art pop is a snug fit.

Singer-songwriter Tommy Keene makes pop of a different stripe, the kind with the word power in front of it. Although he’s fought the power-pop pigeonhole in the past it’s easy to see where it comes from; through a career that’s dragged him from the indies to the majors and back underground, his stuff has always brimmed with said genre’s requisite heart-on-the-sleeve/lump-in-the-throat lyrics, choirboy harmonies, driving backbeats, and Byrdsy guitars. The two-disc Do You Hear Me covers Keene’s output from 1983 to 2009 and offers the perfect entry point into his jangly, hook-heavy oeuvre—a catalog that’s won him fans in the Replacements’ Paul Westerberg and Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard, both of whom Keene has collaborated with. (There’s also a Wilco connection in the late Jay Bennett, who backed Keene after exiting the Jeff Tweedy-led outfit.) This set adds demos and live cuts to the shoulda-been hits, though the shiny production may make some long for a taste of Keene’s pioneering Washington, DC, punk unit, the Razz.

A little farther south, however, was Finger, a quartet that, thankfully, preferred the foundation of the Factory’s record collection to the one in its makeup kit. While likewise referencing the Stones and the Dolls (throw in some Heartbreakers, Crazy Horse, and Johnny Winter), the North Carolina crew slathered the proceedings in their own non-posturing, down-home sauce—along with crashing guitars, piercing slide, and scrappy harmonies. Any group would’ve killed for the tight hooks of “Gravitating Home” or the irresistible, descending chords of “Wedding Boots.” Still in Boxes: 1990-1993 points to Finger as one the decade’s most underrated bands for catchy, hard-hitting rock ’n’ roll. Well worth a poke. —Peter Aaron

The Mommyheads:
Tommy Keene, Finger:
The Factory:

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