Ken Stringfellow Masters the Disciplines of Rocking Out

If you know about the Disciplines, you probably know that they're Ken Stringfellow's latest band. And if you know Ken Stringfellow, you probably know his pedigree -- co-founder of The Posies, member of the reconstituted Big Star since 1993, member of R.E.M. from 1998-2005, and purveyor of eclectic and under-appreciated solo albums, not to mention countless one-off side projects, collaborations and guest appearances. And if you know any of the bands Stringfellow's worked with, you probably think you know what the Disciplines are going to sound like -- good melodies, great harmony vocals, lots of hooks. Especially given that his bandmates are veterans of Briskeby, a '90s/2000s pop band who were huge in their native Norway.

To which I say, put on Track 2 of their latest album, Virgins Of Menace (their second full-length, just released on Spark & Shine Records). "Fate's A Strong Bitch" is a ripsnorting rocker that bludgeons the eardrums like a cross between the Stooges and early Metallica. Stringfellow, his voice a rich bellow, snarls lines out of the Punk Rock Class Of '77 yearbook like "Rock n' roll is just a diet craze/And it makes me... WANNA THROW UP!" They even throw in a cameo rant by Lydia Lunch, the legendary vet of New York's No Wave scene in the early '80s.

Yes, it's cool for longtime fans to hear Stringfellow nail yet another style -- I think polkas and free jazz are about all that remain on his musical to-do list -- but Virgins Of Menace is a lot more than one big thrash-fest. Within its guitar-rock limits, the album jumps pretty nimbly from arena rock to new-wave guitar pop, Thin Lizzy to Hüsker Dü, and even a couple of tracks that wouldn't sound out of place on a Posies record.

The first five tracks on Virgins Of Menace, culminating with the hooky, anthemic "Kill The Killjoy," are as impeccable a quintet of songs as you'll find nowadays -- if this were an EP, I'd annoint it with stars, crowns and perfect scores and send it straight to the EP Hall Of Fame, do not pass go. There's not a clunker among the other seven tracks on the album, which runs a sprightly 32 minutes and change. But it's like getting a 12-course tasting menu and being full after the first fish dish. No matter how delicious the rest of the meal is, you don't need any more. But this is one feast where I don't mind overindulging.

With an absolutely ferocious, borderline-insane live show that's been talked about all over Europe for the last couple of years, and two albums worth of crunch-tastic rock (the first, Smoking Kills, is worth a listen or twelve as well), the Disciplines are no longer a side project but a real band. And a real good band at that. In this business we call show, 2011 vintage, who knows what will stick when you throw it against the wall. But I recommend hopping aboard this bandwagon now.