Rate-A-Record: Boo-hiss

The Rate-A-Record thing we did last month went so swimmingly, and reader response was so huge, that we decided to do another. Hell, it’ll probably be a regular feature.

This month’s guest reviewers are Porchsleeper guitarist-singers Brian Raleigh and Derek Vertin, a couple of homespun dudes who’ve sided with each other since childhood. Their closeness is such that they sometimes finish each other’s quips, and, more often, intrude on each other’s comments, usually in shouted blips and chortles.

You’ll note that Porchsleeper sees its second full-length — the cleverly titled Porchsleeper — released this week, produced with rickety joy by should-be-giant Ypsi songwriter Jim Roll. It’s suitably hackle-raising rock ’n’ roll that’s as thick and warm as Billy Beer, and which, by all rights, should be twisting from a gallows tree, sharing a branch with Paul Westerberg, two boughs beneath Phil Lynott’s. Healthy-lunged singing, dueling guitar leads, country-riffs-on-steroids and poppy "ahhhh" harmonies fortify tunes detailing beauty queens, weed-booze benders, living in the parent’s garage, childhood reminiscences and failed dreams. It drips pathos and heart; like a gin-blossomed barstool raconteur, humor and sadness lurking beneath the grins and twang. As understood by the band’s dogged fan base and area bloggers, this quartet is a summation of a good old American rock ’n’ roll songbook, only loud as fuck.

Further, Porchsleeper doesn’t give a hangover’s whiskey shit about having a “career” in music. The only thing missing is the beer gut, which they’re workin’ on.

On a recent night, the two Porchsleepers (whereabouts of bassist Zac Johnson and drummer Steve Bekkala were unknown) came downtown to my office and fueled up on beer. As they got soused, the volume and vitriol level rose in direct proportion to beer drained.

I played select songs from new CDs or reissues, only revealing the band or artist identities after the pair burped up their commentary.

Keysha Cole (featuring Kayne West)
The Way It Is (A&M)

Derek: What is it about new R&B and soul that they have to bring in hired guns like Kayne to sell albums, and then ruin the songs by telling you that they’re gonna come in. That “Yo, yo, I’m on the mic” shit ...

Brian: I don’t know who this is, I’m sure she’s a nice girl [laughs]. The only reason they put in that Kayne West part is so they can get you through her awful oversung choruses to whatever mind-blowing rap he’s gonna give. I like Kayne a lot, but this is a terrible song. She’s telling this story and I was totally bored with the story. I wanted to get to the Kayne West rap ...

Derek: Wait, wait, wai ... stop. What I do like about this is they made an effort to do some songwriting in the R&B genre. They don’t ...

Brian: [interrupts] I don’t think that’s true. I think there’s a lot of over-songwriting going on in R&B right now. I mean, have you heard any of that fucking R. Kelly stuff?

Derek: Have you heard J. Lo, where it’s the same damn loop over and over?

Brian: Yeah, but that’s a different kinda thing ...

Derek: [heatedly] No, noooo. That’s what they’re passing off as R&B now. You know, I’m sure Keysha helped me with my T-Mobile account.


Black Tie Dynasty (IDOL)

Derek: Sonically beautiful, hopelessly outdated. It sounds like Robert Smith fired the Cure and hired the Mission U.K.

Brian: I know who this is. Is this band from Texas? I told my singer in my band in high school, and I’d tell this singer the same thing: If you’re from the Midwest or Texas you should not sing in a British accent.


Sex Slaves
Bite Your Tongue (RAD)

Derek: “K-Tel presents party rock sponsored by the letter [sings to reflect the songs chorus] O-O-o-o-o-o-O-O-O.” I like the Ramones quality to this; they’re honest about their punk interpretation. But very mud-puddle shallow.

Brian: Mud puddle? Do you mean the band?

Derek: [sings] “Me and my friends are going drinking, O-o-o-O-o-o-O/We’re gonna take the train, O-o-O-o-O-O/We’re going downtown O-O-o-o-o-O.” No, like a puddle of mud.

Brian: A puddle? What? Two of my favorite bands in the whole world are Dead Boys and Hanoi Rocks. So this is right in my fuckin’ wheelhouse. I love it. I’d buy it. And I’d listen to it cranked in my Jeep going down Main Street in Ann Arbor.


Yin Yang Twins
United States of Atlanta (TVT)

Derek: When you hear this coming out of an Impala with the tinted windows and the rims and everything — when you hear the lyrics and hear the phrasing — you think are these guys laughing the way that I laugh when I hear what these guys are saying? But it’s funny, and it’s honest. It’s tough when it needs to tough. I like it.

Brian: I thought the first song was really hardcore. It reminded me of the first time I heard “Paranoid” when I was 13. I can totally relate to a kid hearing this and going “fuuuck, my parents are gonna freak when they hear this.” But the next two songs were like this Bon Jovi pop-rap ...

Derek: Nooo. They weren’t that soft.

Brian: It was really kinda frou-frou. Yeah, they were like nice, pop-rap kinda things ...

Derek: No, no.

Brian: Yeah, I give it a C-plus.

Derek: [laughs] Aren’t we doing great? Five albums in and we finally give a record a rating.


Milk ’n’ Cookies
Milk ’n’ Cookies (’74 UK reissue; RPM)

Derek: This is why I didn’t buy any ’80s girl-based punk rock. It was a pointless sound. What’s the point? There’s no content, just sound. I don’t like it.

Brian: There doesn’t have to be any substance to rock ’n’ roll. This is just good rock ’n’ roll. I like that kinda girl-punk, Blondie ... Dead Boys with a chick singer. I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out who this is.

[Milk ’n’ Cookies was a Long Island pop band. And the singer wasn’t a chick.]


Rodney Crowell
The Outsider (Columbia)

Derek: This is what CMT would pass off as alternative country. Devastatingly disappointing.

Brian: This crap is why I fly into a psychopathic rage every time somebody says, “Hey, we’re alt-country!” You know this guy came up with these songs in 15 minutes. The rhyme schemes were just like, uh ...

Derek: This guy’s a slave to the rhyme...

Brian: Oh, my God. Bed, said, head, red ... it’s terrible...

Derek: What rhymes with head!

Brian: Even the production. Very early ’90s Petty.




The Odds of Winning (Near)

Derek: I am so tired of hearing production overwhelm the songs. The songs may have been good but the production just beats the shit out of ’em.

Brian: It’s fluff. Five minutes in, I want my money back for the five minutes of my life I just gave up.

Derek: The single had a decent chorus ...

Brian: I’m not gonna hum that song later! There’s nothing catchy about that and it’s buried in thousands of effects. Boooooooo.


East Grand Blues EP (V2)

Derek: Beautiful! The production actually helps this album. I know it’s very derivative and very Yardbirds-y, but I really dig it. Thumbs up because God forbid somebody actually writes a good harmony and melody.

Brian: I liked it. But I liked it a lot better when it was the second Stone Roses record!

Derek: Ahhh, that’s mean. That’s just hurtful.


The Dials
Sick Times (Ribo-Teen)

Derek: Yawwwn — standard workmanlike garage product.

Brian: This was the music they played to get Manuel Noriega out of his compound without a violent confrontation. It’s Chinese water torture put to vinyl, or whatever it is. Terrible.

Derek: I don’t mean to bag on garage rock, I’m into the sentiment and the primal thing ...

Brian: That wasn’t garage rock! That was girl-punk formula. The same chords over and over again with a girl basically meandering over the riff. Wait, it’s not even a riff; you have a girl meandering over the chords.


Detroit Cobras
“Hot Dog” (Bloodshot)

Derek: Based on that one song, that’s a girl using what a girl needs to use. Man, it’s dirty and wrong and hot dog. I love it. I looove it.

Brian: And Derek hates all girl singers. He hates anything that has a vagina.

Derek: Hey, I don’t hate vagina ...

Brian: OK, he doesn’t want vagina to rock. This girl sounds hot. She makes me feel like I was 14 again.


Savage Life (Trill/Asylum)

Derek: There is no hook. This is sexism put to a Casio. This is garbage.

Brian: Yeah, they brought in a girl to make it OK. Is that Trina? I was really hoping that her rap would balance it out ...

Derek: Yeah, she’s going, “I’m everything you say I am, but guess what? I can still cook a good meal while I turn the N-word out."”


The Porchsleeper record release show is Saturday, July 16, at the Lager House (1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668) with Prime Ministers and DJ Theaks (Dorkwave). Preview Porchsleeper's upcoming album on their artist profile page.

Brian Smith is Metro Times music editor. Send comments to [email protected]