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Spheres of Influence 

High art meets High Life on the new album from Kent's Gold Circles.

Brains and brews: Gold Circles are equally versed in - Bukowski and Bud.
  • Brains and brews: Gold Circles are equally versed in Bukowski and Bud.
Walking into the home of memorabilia-mad Gold Circles frontman Steve Five, a music fan almost feels the need to genuflect.

"It's a testament to rock and roll," Five says with a wave of his arm as he enters his house, nestled on the outskirts of Kent. Nearly every square inch is covered in vintage rock photos ripped from the pages of Creem and Hit Parader. There's Patsy Cline LPs hanging next to shrink-wrapped copies of Mad magazine and huge posters of Elvis and the Beatles. In the living room, nine TVs, all patched into the same VCR, play an old bootleg tape labeled "'60s Explosion." Mick Jagger and Keith Richards ham it up onscreen, after which a beaming talk-show host bellows, "Aren't those Rolling Stones really something? They make the Beatles look like Yul Brynner."

But within this shrine to rock's finest, Five soon commits sacrilege.

"The Counting Crows, I like their first record a lot," he confesses with a chuckle.

"The first record that I ever bought was Soul Asylum's "Runaway Train" album [Grave Dancers Union]," Gold Circles bassist Josh Spinhoward chimes in.

Such populist leanings aren't exactly expected from bands like Gold Circles, entrenched as they are within indie-rock circles.

"We'll be on tour and people'll be like 'What are you guys listening to?'" Spinhoward says. "I think they're expecting some very obscure indie-rock bands that only a dozen people know about. And we're like 'Uh, we listen to Boston and Sabbath.' I'd rather listen to Zeppelin than At the Drive-In."

Don't mistake these boys for rubes. Granted, they live in a town where the tallest building is a grain elevator, quote The Big Lebowski with frequency, and engage in heated debates about the merits of various rockers of the '70s -- "If there was any one band that I could banish from ever existing in my whole life, it would be Fleetwood Mac," Spinhoward proclaims between swigs of Miller High Life. (When the can's empty, we drink a 40-ounce Bud Light out of champagne glasses.)

Nevertheless, the band (rounded out by drummer Jason Tarulli) is as well versed in Charles Bukowski as it is beer. All three are English majors at Kent State. Five has spent time traveling through India, and Spinhoward can barely contain his enthusiasm for Jackson Pollock when the conversation somehow drifts from Ghostbusters to modern art.

Gold Circles' appetite for both the loud, cheap thrills of lowbrow entertainment and the more stimulating appeal of higher art is very much reflected in their music. Slavering power chords bench press intricate pop melodies. Stoned-shoegazer reveries get a kick in the pants from NOFX's Doc Martens. Slayer meets Sunny Day Real Estate, then promptly puts it in a headlock. It all makes Gold Circles' recently released second album, Abuse the Magic, a helter-skelter pop sucker punch that qualifies as one of the best regional releases of the year. Call Kent a hick town all you want; it's clear that the city's isolated, semirural setting has made Gold Circles somewhat oblivious to all the silly restrictions that confine modern rock.

"There's something to be said about the fact that Kent is kind of cut off [from big-city life], as opposed to a place where you've got factions that say, 'If you're an indie-rock kid, you shouldn't listen to Megadeth,'" explains Five, who counts Megadeth's Rust in Peace among his favorite discs growing up, along with My Bloody Valentine's Loveless and Nirvana's Nevermind.

Not surprisingly, portly metal dudes rub elbows with backpack-sporting indie-rock chicks at Gold Circles shows. "I remember we played a show at the Grog Shop with Mary Timony," Five recalls. "And this guy in a Slayer T-shirt and a beard came up. There were maybe 40, 50 people there, but nobody was up front. He came up, stood right in front of me, watched me play guitar, and was just like 'Yeah!' [waves fist]. That's kind of what I like about the music coming out of Kent right now: It's accessible. If it was on the radio, any guy driving down the street might like it."

"My dad was in a band that covered Creedence and the Dead and stuff like that, and his friends love the record," Spinhoward adds. "That's awesome: that somebody as far removed from my scene as could possibly be is really into my band."

It's easy to hear why. Gold Circles mix so many different musical touchstones in such a carefree manner that there's something to perk up the ears of most anyone. Are there moments of Moby? Sure. Splashes of Smashing Pumpkins? Yep. A jigger of Jethro Tull?

"Jethro Tull," Spinhoward snorts, recalling a review that compared Gold Circles to the '70s hard-rock blowhards. "I fucking hate Jethro Tull."

"All we need to get is a flute player," Tarulli quips, as drinks are drained and Spinhoward heads for the door. The flutist can wait; it's time to get more beer.

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