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This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of Teenbeat Records, the label that brought you Unrest, Eggs, Jonny Cohen, and so much more less-is-more pop. This milestone will be marked by three free shows in the Courthouse area of Arlington, not far from the Ballston sanctum of ‘beat boss Mark Robinson. Or you could just stay home and listen to some of the label’s latest.
As its coy packaging indicates, Teenbeat has an endless enthusiasm for cute, and no ‘beat band is cuter than Blast Off Country Style, whose second CD is archly titled Rainbow Mayonnaise Deluxe. The disc is emblazoned with Japanese phonetic characters, which is apt: At its most engaging, the quartet has the naive charm (feigned, of course) of early Shonen Knife. This is a band that can get away with song titles like “Cutie Pie” and “Buttercup”—although “Tough Luck, Trashcan,” in which a French-accented woman tries to brush off an unwanted caller, is more whimsicality than the unprepared listener should be asked to accept.
With its samples and synth beats and bleeps, Mayonnaise sometimes sounds like a low-budget version of Saint Etienne, even if that band would never attempt the simple, strummy pleasures of BOCS’s“Standard Green” or “Cutie Pie.” Switching synths for guitars, though, it just might be capable of a tune as sweetly plain as “Come Out and Play”—or an instrumental as uneventful as “Monkey Wrench.” BOCS plays at 5 p.m., Friday, March 3, at Sugar Shack, downstairs from Go! Discs at 2507 N. Franklin St. in Arlington.
A two-man early-’80s revival, Romania doesn’t seem to quite fit the Teenbeat sensibility; the band is just too earnest about its retro tastes. Still, the duo does possess songcrafting skills that many ‘beat boys (and girls) might envy. On its Teenbeat debut, a 7-inch single, the band does the sort-of-Bowie-esque “Planes” and anearly-O.M.D. flashback, “I Connect With You.” Both bring the pulse to the fore, and the former’s warmer, less techno-sounding rhythm tracks suggest that Romania could pump up the beat to the point where it no longer sounded exactly like its models. Romania plays at 8 p.m., Thursday, March 2, at O’Carroll’s Irish Restaurant, 2051 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington.
The elusive Bells of is Lawrence McDonald and whatever rhythm section he can locate at the time. There are numerous bassists and drummers (as well as the occasional keyboardist or horn player) on Two Dos or Not 2?, the second album by the “band,” but the proceedings are dominated by McDonald. The 12 tracks were originally recorded between 1986 and 1993, and some of the earlier ones (like “Untied”) can sound rather hardcore. They’re all decorated with McDonald’s agile guitar work, however, which has become increasingly jazzy. The result is neither Minor Threat nor Mahavishnu, but a distinctive style all McDonald’s own—proving that among the weirdos Teenbeat nurtures are eccentric artists as well as mere eccentrics. Bells of makes a rare appearance on Thursday, March 9 (not one of the free shows), at the Black Cat.
CDs are $10 and singles $3 from Teenbeat, P.O. Box 3265, Arlington, VA 22203.