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New discs by Portland groups focus on the here, now and hereafter

Blues Goblins

Blues Goblins

(Off Records)

Sam Coomes has always had one eye on the great beyond, so his blues shift shouldn't be seen as a complete shocker. Given the genre's occupation with doom and despair, it would seem a pretty snug fit.

With Portland duo Quasi and his San Francisco outfit, the Donner Party, Coomes has penned songs about the passing of time, growing older and the inevitable fate that awaits one and all.

Some of these have a certain playful quality to them, such as the Donner Party classic 'When You're Dead Your Eyes Pop Out.' But as the years waltz by, a somewhat darker fatalism appears to have taken hold as evidenced by lines such as 'Life is dull/Life is gray/At its best it's just OK/But I'm happy to report/Life is also short,' from the Quasi song 'California.'

On the Blues Goblins record, Coomes' staggering, abstract and ultimately cathartic blasts of honky prog-blues sound like the most fun he's had in quite a spell. Blues purists won't dig this action, but established Quasi fans and musical iconoclasts will smile and nod approvingly over Coomes' left-field extrapolations and socko-delic guitar work on Howlin' Wolf's 'I Ask for Water' and Elmore James' 'Rollin' and Tumblin'.'

When all is said and done, Coomes proves he's just another cat coming to grips with his own fleeting mortality. Making a righteous racket on the way to the boneyard helps take some of the sting out of the whole business.

Stereo Crush

Like a Girlfriend

(Conspiracy Theory Music)

Singer, guitarist and spiffily dressed heartbreak kid Johnny Crash is the main guy in local quartet Stereo Crush, and his musical gifts are on abundant display here. He has a charged, commanding voice that rises above and beyond the band's somber synth melodies and carries enough emotional weight to make a lasting impression.

Even as songs such as 'Break in Two' and 'Promises in Sand' will make older listeners think of '80s haircut groups such as Depeche Mode, Spandau Ballet or INXS on a dreary day, the Stereo Crush sound is shiny and polished enough for modern rock radio saturation. Despite the band's unapologetic desire to win the popularity contest, lowest common denominator elements don't enter into the equation.

The tunes on this five-song EP have more than enough twists and turns to warrant repeated listening Ñ which is a good thing for us if they manage to scramble up a few rungs on the lofty ladder of accomplishment.

Stereo Crush plays at 9 p.m. Friday, March 14, at Nocturnal, 1800 E. Burnside St., 503-239-5900, $5.

The Silver Surfer

If This Is out There

(Nexus Underground Music)

This Portland combo is spilling over with good ideas and vigorous execution. While acknowledging a debt to past masters of happy-time harmony such as the Beach Boys and the Association, the Surfers also power up their guitars with plenty of wattage. 'Sgt. Pepper vs. Endless Summer' could pass for a quality Apples in Stereo cut. 'To the Next Light Star' is a blanket-warm bit of pop that sounds like a dusky signal to pack up and head home after a particularly memorable picnic.

One can't help but be charmed by the Surfers' considerable pop smarts, but at the same time there is a certain uniformity of approach and arrangement to this collection that quells some of the initial enthusiasm. These fellows would do well to bust out of their comfort zone and look for even more challenging waves next time around. They can handle them.

The Silver Surfer plays at

9:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, at Blackbird, 3728 N.E. Sandy Blvd., 503-282-9949, $5.

We are the mods

If you can't afford the DVD copy of 'Quadrophenia' and you've played all your Small Faces albums down to a fine powder, than shimmy on over to 'Mod Madness 2003.'

The evening features a trio of bands that pledge allegiance to '60s British R & B and freak-beat sounds. Star Collector from Vancouver, B.C., is the headliner and boasts a snappy, 12-string guitar sound that just won't quit jingle-jangling. Portland groups the Superficials and Mod Lewis round out the bill.

Dust off your uncle's fab jacket and gas up the Vespa. You might get a dance with the Face.

'Mod Madness' happens at

9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 15, at Satyricon, 125 N.W. Sixth Ave., 503-243-2380, $6.