by Brian Smith
Say hello to Szymanski, Shettler & Morris, the Motor Citys first post-garage supergroup. This limited-edition (500 pressed and numbered) album finds singer-keysman John Szymanski (Hentchmen, Paybacks), drummer Dave Shettler (Nathaniel Mayer and the Shanks, ex-Sights, etc.) and guitarist Marty Morris (Cyril Lords) determined to bring quality music back to style, in an attempt to open your mind so as to blow it. OK, but what does that say about their other bands?
That cheeky missive and LP1s rickety sonics at first suggest SSM is merely satirizing the whole rock band idea. But Szymanski, whose other groups no longer tour, insists the band is very serious. Besides, ironic stances are for chickenshits anymore, and these 14 hastily recorded songs captured in two days by the Black Keys Dan Auerbach stand tall. Its a great collection.
The mandatory breakdowns and disillusionment required of a life in rock n roll are SSM familiars, handily themed and mocked, climaxing on the jaded power-chord salute Fiction Rock + Roll, which ends, fittingly, in a sputter. Elsewhere, self-loathing becomes soiled joy in Sick, which dovetails nicely with Worst of Me, a crooked confessional about a guy halfheartedly coming clean: Sorry I didnt send no flowers when she overdosed. Theres justifiable stalking (Aint Love), randy lover-swapping (Youll Be Glad You Did) and a protagonists animal instincts championing the low life in No Looking Back. But the weirdly orchestral reading of Belle Isle Daze, penned by local organ godhead Lyman Woodard, is a welcome surprise that collapses under its own arrangement.
Dinosaur, one of two that Morris sings, is a wonderfully mellotron-driven lament imagine Jeff Tweedy on a speed crash, fronting a soused Sights, offering such bluesy lyrical bullets as I dont mean to go and make you blue/But Ive had much better than you.
Winks to Love, and post-R&B Pretty Things are easy, but the character-driven tales from the proletariat, the impulsive time changes and the fucked-up baroque-pop arrangements the fracture, distortion and occasional art-pop glitch could be called blind inventiveness.
Szymanskis voice cracks with barroom warmth, more so than in the Hentchmen. His organ melodies float, flip, spew and plummet; the keyboard bass anchors, and a cheesy Moog synths jagged edges are as misplaced as they are memorable.
The notorious Shettler is one of a few truly gifted drummers in Detroit; he doesnt just bash a song, he becomes it. Hes a Bonham conduit, a Moon study, a Levon Helm in shaggier fringe. But Shettler proves that beating on things ceaselessly is for lesser men, hence the cheap beat-box that carries a few songs.
Morris wah-fuzz and skewered-blues guitar psychedelica just sings atop Shettlers groove, alongside Syzmanskis melody. Hes never sounded better.
LP1s songs and textures transcend its on-the-cheap recording, and the band is no fluke. Its more like, as Szymanski says (laughing), another chance.
Appears Friday, Oct. 14, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700. Buy this record there while supplies last.
Brian Smith is music editor of Metro Times. E-mail him at email@example.com.