Life of Crime
Big deal, so Life of Crime’s main songwriter/singer Kurt Marschke could easily be accused of harboring a heady Jeff Buckley fixation. Hell, the crooner even bears an uncanny resemblance to the late singer, all lithe with bony shoulders and a milk-white derma. Still, rock star associations aside, the autumnal-sounding Marschke and Life of Crime (Peter Ballard on pedal steel, drummer William King, keyboardist Aric Karpinski, bassist Marvin Shaouni) have concocted one of the most listenable records this year.
Released in March, this nine-song disc — recorded ably by Bob Ebeling at Royal Oak’s Rustbelt studios — is both artful and lofty and doesn’t at all sound like it came out of Detroit.
Demos for the Choirbook offers up spacious and panoramic evocations of what the band describes in its bio as "themes of life, loss and love." It runs the gamut of the truly lovely ("The wind that blows through mother’s hanging sheets/relax and draw another breath") to the truly vivid ("The red gash on her face/you could call a smile") to, of course, the truly pretentious ("As the blood seeps form the neck of love/All love is blessed forever"). It sounds like they’ve all got good, sensitive-white-boy-moping-in-his-basement record collections. You can hear the old Blue Nile, the two St. Nicks (Drake and Cave), Syd Barrett … OK, you get the picture.
The record’s spare and open arrangements, occasional cello and pedal steel show moments of grace and the ambient programming is more than just auxiliary. It’s a record that can summon the failing light of October where everything looks depthless as a stage prop, brittle and fragile as memory. Demos for the Choirbook is at times remarkable, particularly considering that most of the guys in the band are still just pups. Visit www.lifeofcrime.net.
On cursory glance, the two-piece Venereal Injection appeared to be the lowest ebb of ’em all. First, there’s the photo: Two white guys, one (Eight, aka Joe Aro) in a hooded jacket wearing a humorless leer, the other (3, aka Paul Baily) wears a fishnet stocking on his face and a leather-strapped ball-gag. The package also includes a line drawing of a vagina in the midst of gynecological injection. Oh, joy. In the accompanying bio, Eight (guitars, bass, samplers) explains that the band is mainly a studio project that is actively seeking recruits for world domination. I would never put this disc on. Ever. But I did.
Like sex — where sullied novelty counts for so much more than the straightest, simplest act of missionary — the music of Venereal Injection feels dirtier, therefore better, than its list of influences, which owe to the usual goth/industrial twaddle like Skinny Puppy, Project Pitchfork, the Cure, etc. Still, track one, "S&M," is a programmed-beat arduous mess of indistinguishable distorto vocals, organ and clamorous fuzz guitar that manages, by some miraculous fluke, to transcend the unconcealed genre limitations to soar like a proper pop song. What lyrics can be deciphered advocate dungeon deeds from the tongue-in-cheek point of view of a submissive. But by the third song "Silent Blue," the lyrical rote of "She’s dirty, she’s dirty" starts sounding too hygienic. Worse, too Gary Numan. Surf to www.angelfire.com/vi/venerealinjection.
The Social Retards
Some bands are simply DIY by necessity. So, if only for the effort, you gotta love a CD-R that comes packaged as a legitimate release. Having said that, this Ypsilanti-based quartet has put forth, quite possibly, the most unlistenable pile of dung committed to digital since those wretched Pablo Cruise reissues a few years back. Full of dirge-y, indie-inspired, way-too-long songs that somebody forgot to write, complete with unintentional time changes, ridiculous bass lines and unreasonable lyrics, 8-bit Ass Whooping is, in short, a cranial gang rape gone awry. On the other hand there’s the band bio, which is self-deprecating and funny. It tells us how the boys can’t get laid, how the band plays its shows for free and how they don’t care about Carson Daly. Yeah! Get the bio and file the CD between your beer and the coffee table. And visit socialretards.tripod.com/center.html.
This 13-song disc of lounge-y schmaltz comes from a guy called Creepy Clyde, a self-described "master of monster melodies." Indeed, he sounds creepy, but not in a Halloween-y sort of way; he’s more on the smarmy side, like Dave Vanian at the height of his Elvis fixation. And Creepy Clyde sounds like Vanian, too, crooning steady streams of sap like "Man-Eating Plant," "The Carp That Ate Detroit," "The Old Man From Kalamazoo" that would sit quite well should you find yourself drunk in a Dearborn fern bar on Halloween night. Strangely, all of this makes Creepy Clyde good and Spooky Town oddly satisfying, whether or not Clyde had intended the irony. Get thee to www.creepyclyde.com.
Once you get used to Ethos singer Christian Burke’s velvet-lined cavern of a voice, you suddenly realize that you’re listening to a male singer who isn’t some Yankee macho miserygut; rather, he’s unafraid to mix bewilderment, mama’s-boy tendencies and melody schooled on Morrissey and Britpop (all of which would, in nearly every instance, make for some of the most drizzlingly average music ever created). But don’t hold that against Burke or the five-piece band, ’cause I’m a No One is a record worth owning.
The bottom line is the songs are both simple and baffling. "Where’d Ya" is the record’s best, a muscular big-guitar glam stomp, complete with garage-y "oh-oh" harmonies, handclaps and a chorus that leads with "Where did ya learn to talk so much" about a quixotic love gone astray over verbosity.
The one low point is "Me and You," a song plagued by an almost scat-like ’50s rave-up chorus that finds a band whose grasp has exceeded its reach. Forget the circa ’97 Britpop references that have saddled Ethos; here’s a band writing good songs. Which, these days, doesn’t really mean all that much. Stop by www.ethoscentral.com. Brian Smith is the Metro Times’ music editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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