Just because someone writes a song doesn’t mean it’s done, much less good. And anybody with a computer and recording software, a small mixer, a compressor and a microphone can make a record.
It used to be that a band or artist would do demos of songs — first drafts — play live shows, and learn to work the craft, develop a sense of placement and context, and then go in and make the record. With Pro Tools and other new technologies, many shut-in geeks and tech-savvy average joes suddenly fancy themselves the new Brian Wilson or Prince, the new Quincy Jones or Bob Clearmountain. Often the results of their self-obsessed idolatry are shamefully self-indulgent and narcissistic musings; releases showing us that fingertip cut-and-paste technology is license to assemble slumberous 70-plus-minute records that nobody will ever, ever listen to. Christ, whoever sat through to side six of Sandanista — and that was the Clash! It’s up-to-the-moment technological insanity that jeopardizes the basic principle of human interaction, which is the soul of music. Of course, that’s not to suggest that many quality records haven’t risen from a befriending of technology. But that’s a whole other argument.
The technology has led to an unprecedented glut of new records. Currently, the number of official releases per week in this country figures well into the hundreds, and rummaging through the crushing numbers to find the one record that offers the goose bumps can be an irksome and daunting experience. And, admittedly, worthy ones done locally on a shoestring are ever harder to find, as it appears everyone this side of my grandmother is making a goddamned record.
Inside Five Minutes
Seven Song EP
Inside Five Minutes’ second release (third if you count a split single with Tight Bros From Way Back When) since forming in 1999 works in the same way Soundgarden did; where the music thumps and lopes with the grace of unbroken mares, where everyday is colored with the ennui and dull ache of a trailer park at dawn.
IFA’s two guitarists are the band’s ace in the hole, calling upon the long-forgotten notes of Blue Cheer’s Leigh Stephens and filtering them through STP’s Dean Deleo’s Marshall stack. Distinguished — and for the most part listenable — riffs go lengths to lift vocals, append hooks and curl ears.
IFA’s lyrics run the gamut of conflicting loyalties (“Tar in the Mouth”), picking fights with yourself (“Negativity Gets Me Down”), and comparing one’s interior to another’s exterior (“Perth-Andover”). All worthy, human-as-hell themes when not shrouded in the same sort of solipsistic, macho meanderings that elevated Chris Cornell to a proletariat pin-up; unfortunately the flat vocal melodies — delivered with the same pitched, keg-lunged Cornellisms — have little staying power, and when the disc is over, it’s over.
Intentional or not, Seven Song EP is the aural equivalent of mothers unwittingly separating from daughters, of malicious kids clipping wings of butterflies, of apple-cheeked white boys in maximum-security lock-down; great stuff for depressed lonely sons who walk the line between Gummo and the local party store. What’s funny, the five manboys of IFM were probably just sweet kids from the suburbs whose musical formative years were spent having to choose between “120 Minutes” and “Headbanger’s Ball.” Surf to www.insidefiveminutes.com.
An employee and former student of the Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan proclaims in his bio that “I’m not colorblind, I see races,” and proceeds to make a whole record based around similar issues of non-issues and PC stances filtered through “singer/songwriter” personal politics. The self-proclaimed “White” songwriter from Ann Arbor on Into Dye has hit a saturation point of inconspicuous melody and woolly songwriting germane to temp agency waiting rooms and elevator rides in smoked glass high-rises.
But that’s not to say some won’t find satisfaction. The record is sprinkled with capable jazzy playing: sleepy-eyed piano bar shtick, John Mclaughlin-inspired guitar motifs and jovial, sunny day saxes, trumpets and trombones, all provided by a creditable cast of Ann Arbor musos. And James’ silent-shoed, pedestrian croon recalls the relaxant summer breeziness of easy slacks, dinner and wine on a veranda, and, perhaps, James Taylor. Embarrassingly precious inner-gazing refrains (“I feel as though I see creation staring back at me, to be lost of found in ends of time”) are weighed too often against the occasional thoughtful and reflective turns (“Children at the playground ran around calling names/Someone looked like someone else and there they put the blame”).
A Thousand Times Yes
Picture sober kids and adolescent scholars with troubled complexions standing around some stage at dinner hour staring with impassive expressions at kid cousins of Sleater-Kinney going full throttle on nothing but heart. Terminally indie, terminally ironic and terminally punk-rock-itchy cute. But don’t hold any of that against them.
The band’s second release, Michigan, is a workable afternoon aside to the cheap seductions of cable TV and the spirit-diminishing addiction of downloading song files; there’re puppy dog Sleater-Kinney intimations and power-pop rushes like schoolyard crushes. What’s more, the whimsical beauty of album closer “The Desert of Law-Abiding Souls” might even withstand the disposability and here-today-gone-today temperament of pop and indie.
The trio’s focal point is Sparx, a fetching bassist/vocalist whose trailer-court-goddess voice gives the songs a peculiar innocence, the ability to impart a yearning for time and place. She can intone a line like “My heart is in Atlanta/Although I have never been there” and you believe it, intuitively. The record may rattle with sloppy lo-fi dubiousness, and the songs are usually better than the performance, but so what? There’s a pulse and a heartbeat stepping above the potholes. Browse to www.athousandtimesyes.com.
We all know that in the early 1950s Allan Freed nicked a ghetto expression for schtupping and coined the term “rock ’n’ roll.” The 1956 Encyclopedia Britannica Yearbook described rock ’n’ roll as, “insistent savagery — deliberately competing with the artistic ideals of the jungle.” By the mid-1970s, staunch Christians were chirping that rock ’n’ roll had begun defiling the sacred music in the house of worship. And now, the devil’s racket is a frequent cohort of the church, it seems, and puffy rockers, from Amy Grant to Creed to the Newsboys, are all down with JC in a big way.
From my vantage, guys in Christian bands are always getting the raw deal, all the anguish and low pay of a musician in a rock band without the drugs and sex.
Anyway, Solomon’s Request is an area Christian rock band featuring a Jovi-meets-Bono singer Bill Wasler and an apt band versed on the Reagan-era template of pop-metal arena-rock. The disc’s first single “Innocence” is Jovi’s “She’s a Little Runaway” sideways, and the rest of the disc bounces along similarly. The songs offer unabashedly much JC doggerel, and the record opens with the line “Remember the miracles in Egypt/Remember the walls came down in Jericho” and ends with “And Jesus Christ is just a thought in my head/My heart begins to break for your crime.” In short, Solomon’s Request renders a pop record of riffs and religious dogma no better or worse song for song than anything any other goofy band like Stryper, Night Ranger or Mr. Big once trotted out. Get thee to www.solomonsrequest.com.
Nick Pivot and the Cocktail Shakes
What joy. Nick Pivot is an unassuming glabrous-headed gent who looks more like your sixth-grade math teacher cutting loose at cocktail hour and hitting on your mom than he does a maraca-wielding front man with apparent swivel-hips. Upon scrutiny however, Pivot is clever, almost entirely self-effacing and has a rather enjoyable rock ’n’ roll voice that reaches into a nasally distorted tenor as easily as it does rapid-fire staccato.
Pivot and the Cocktail Shakes (Gerald Shohan, guitar; Vito Lapasta, drums, Steve Goff, bass) are Motor City vets who could be accused of rocking the retro racket as a crabby clump of rock purists. But an accusation like that would be too lazy and dismissive. The band has a toothy command of the rock ’n’ roll form, so much so that you can almost hear the band member grinning on the songs.
It’s tricky to make straight power chords, bass, drums and vocals work in a manner not fraught with ear-fatiguing cliché and backward-gazing sentiment, and here NPCS dispense 11 nippy songs that hold up with regular spins. Much of it is very ’70s sounding, recalling the power-pop/pub-rock of the Motors and Eddie and the Hot Rods, and the glam strains of the Sweet. The record’s themes are at times perverse — and Pivot is willing to take the perversity and set it against irresistible pop hooks and subtle sentiment. The best of which is “(A Fool and His) Monkey,” a chirpy ditty celebrating the joys of jerking off inserted in a metaphor of swinging tree monkeys. And songs like “International Shakedown” and “Superficial’” effectively erect middle fingers at the corporate gush of the music biz. They even toss in a raved-up cover of the Rationals’ version of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Leavin’ Here.” Great stuff. Go to www.cocktailshake.com.Brian Smith is the music editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]