Well, first off, Shrag, one of my favorite British bands, one of my favorite rock bands, one of the only bands in this blog’s history to appear on TWO end of year best-of lists, announced yesterday that they’re splitting up. Drag. If you live in England, you’ve got a chance to see them before they do. If not, you’ll be forever pissed you didn’t go that one Popfest show a few years back.
There are two albums which I struggled with putting on my top albums of 2012 list. If I had put them on, they would have occupied last place. I think they didn’t make it, more than anything, due to time constraints. I really wanted to get my list up, and wanted to make sure it was well-edited before I posted it. It’s not that these albums are bad, at all. It’s just that, as far as I’m concerned, they’re great minus something.
The story of The Deadly Syndrome should be a terribly sad story. A look at their wikipedia page explains it- the band was buzzed about in the mid 2000s, toured as openers for bigger indie bands, some of whom (I’ll leave you to figure out which ones), are significantly less interesting and creative than The Deadly Syndrome are. They released a second album which, despite getting positive review from “important people” attracted considerably less attention than their first (the notes for this album inform you that one of its tracks was used in the soundtrack to the feature film Jackass 3.5). All Wikipedia has to say about thier most recent album is “All In Time was released on August 7th, 2012.” This is the type of story that should break a band’s spirit and heart, make them record bitter albums about the fickleness of the music industry, about misunderstood geniuses and the like. But The Deadly Syndrome are too good, too cool for that. Instead, All In Time is a records that is overwhelmingly confident and unflappable, and oftentimes stirring in a gauzy, lightheaded sort of way. There are songs on All In Time which brute themselves at you like a running of the bulls, but singer Chris Richards always sounds sleepy, druggy, calm. It’s an interesting contrast, and it works very well when the tempo is high, which is about half the time. When the band slows or quiets things down everything just snails along a bit too much. Still, there’s a perseverance which doesn’t sound like perseverance on All In Time. It just sounds like a day’s work. It suits the group nicely.
Similarly, there’s New Multitudes, the Woody Guthrie tribute which features the combined musical skills of Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Jim James, and a guy I had never heard of but who piqued my interest named Anders Parker. Like All In Time, when New Multitudes works, it works very well and when it doesn’t, it is a huge reversal from the album highlights. The band members are working with such reverence for Guthrie, there’s a feeling of giddy discovery to a lot of these songs. And the band does interesting things with them, the pyrite gilding of “My Revolutionary Mind”, the shaken up fuzz of “VD City”, the minimal, whispered “Chorine” and “Talking Empty Bed Blues”. The problem, unfortunately, is that sometimes the lyrics really don’t hold up, and I would guess the songwriters felt very tied to what Gurthrie had scribbled down, even if those words were longwinded (“New Multitudes”), mundane (“Fly High”), or terribly cheesy (“My Revolutionary Mind”). I get why the band did what they did here, but all the same, it doesn’t make some of these lyrics any easier to swallow. On the other hand, there were very clearly gems discovered in the search- “Hoping Machine” is a mood-setting, contemplative opener, “No Fear” is as simple and defiant as its title would suggest, and “Old LA” is a detailed paean to an unexpected location. Let’s hope that future such efforts will spend a little more time chosing lyrics, or will view Guthrie’s words less like sacrament, more like drafts.
Also, after their somewhat scattershot last album, I’m relieved and intrigued by this track from the forthcoming Mice Parade album. While Mice Parade songs have always been built out of rhythms, normally those rhythms are as complex as galaxies, as fragile as fall leaves. “This River Has A Tide” still begins and ends for me with its drum beat, but here those drums are slurry, angry ugly. The whole song has an ugliness to it. Adam Pierce, songwriter for the band, tell you it’s a song about The Hudson River (and he’s right; south of the Tappan Zee, the river is actually a tidal estuary) and a break-up, and the scabbiness of it all suggest something grand falling apart, which is grand in its own way.