look for the VIA label

Grin (Swirle/VIA)
Black Cherry Soda

Bookaboöm (VIA)

Hokus Pick

By Robert Gruber

ViaRecords has made aname for itself this year as Christian alternative's city of refuge, a label where re-issues of classic records by legends like Mark Heard and the 77s are released alongside way-cool new bands like Fell Venus, Curious Fools and the Dell Griffiths. Add to that impressive roster two new releases: GrinBy Black Cherry Soda; and Bookaboöm from Canada's own Hokus Pick.

Black Cherry Soda traffics in punkish alt-rock similar to Nirvana, Offspring and MXPX. The "loud-fast" ethic is firmly in place, but so are bright chords, catchy choruses and a rhythm section tighter than a pit bull's grip on a postman's leg. Lyrically, the band opts for honesty and humility over the bitter, angst-ridden posturing of most modem rock fare. Songs like "Grin," "Here and Now" and "Friend" are sung, not screamed and the measure of skill used to bring them off is considerable.

Bookaboöm is edgier than previous Hokus Pick maneuvers and heavier on bass, drums and rhythm guitar. Although a quick spin through this disc sounds like a random sampling of MTV (heavy rotations on Soul Asylum and Live, sprinkled with "closet classics" from Cheap Trick and the Cars), a deeper listen reveals quirky lyrical invention, as on "Velour Shirt," a song about "puppy love heaven": "Well my hormones had a thing for you/So I asked my friend to tell your friend / That I liked you..." – not your typical Christian rock song! Other songs, though, like "I, I (Take it Back)," "Gelatin" and "Disguise" show that, like the parables of Jesus, seemingly simple themes flesh out hard kernels of truth. Hokus Pick has a knack for making it sound like effortless fun all the way through and Bookaboöm, despite the silly title, might just get them some attention.