Some packages come across this desk enclosed with lovely gifts. I once received CD burn from a local band that was kind enough to include a stale steak and chicken sub on pita bread, complete with a side of sweet relish, plus a balloon with its own handy inflation device. Another band sent me a mini blow-up doll with blond hair and utilitarian orifices. She came with a little squirt gun. I’ve received candy too, chocolate-covered cherries, watermelon bubblegum and crispy Easter nests. I also get lots of handwritten letters in indecipherable script from angry people who think it is my job to be a cheerleader for local musicians. All good stuff, to be sure. What’s more, I get the gifting joke. Having said all that, here’s a roundup of a few things out of the hundreds that I receive, which are, for one reason or another, worthy of note. By the way, none of these came with presents.
Hailing from Garden City — a town whose main claim to fame might well be that it was the location of the world’s first Kmart — is a band of slush-chording downtuners called Eyeshow. And what an unholy mess it is. Think Tool with a woody for Rick Wakeman and Peter Murphy, one of those collisions of such dour consequence that it could only happen once in every pop culture cycle. The singer (who is not identified in the CD notes) sounds like Maynard Keenan after a course in anger-management and a couple of Xanax.
Openings plogs along at a pace that would match the slow turns of a man hanging from the neck in a light breeze. The songs have a weird desperation that might appeal to those kids with meth-troubled complexions whose futures rest behind the cash register at a suburban Kmart.
This seven-song disc finds the five long-faced gents of Eyeshow (Scott Daubner, Jon Houghton, Tom Sylvester, Alex DeJack and Thomas Marsh) seemingly at odds with the prospect of living quiet, futile lives. It has that sound, and if nothing else, they get ten points for nailing it.
Yet, highlighting a lyric sheet full of pseudo-meaningful pap about life comes this relentlessly cold vision of sexuality on “Better Things:” I feel remorse applying such force/I never asked you about it/did you say you liked it? Okay, this line has me wondering if, in fact, these gents suffer more than their share of sexual repression. With couplets like that, let us hope they live out their years alone. The CD booklet has a disclaimer that reads “Eyeshow does not support suicide.” God, one more spin of this disc and I’ll affix the noose myself. Go to www.eyeshow.us.
Here we have sweet, sensitive white-boy rock shooting finger-pistols in the general direction of Travis, Jimmy Eat World and Coldplay. So it’s not at all surprising to learn that the band first came together in a dorm room at Michigan State, then worked their songs in the rather fruitful singer/songwriter scene of Ann Arbor’s open-mic nights and coffee shops. After a few lineup changes, the band (Travis Shaver, Paul Krauss, Mark Colwell, Josh Hoisington and Mark Barry) is now solidified. On this, the Giveaway’s third done-on-a-shoestring release, there is, at first, nothing at all imposing or challenging. But who cares? The songs — driven by languorous swirls of understated acoustic and electric guitars, keys and bass — are meant to work the lower levels, the gut, with tunes that could easily be the backing track to classroom crushes, to hazy days spent leafing through yellowy photos of times past. And while some moments on this four-song EP might occasionally summon a yawn, not all is lost. The disc is completely redeemed by opener “Undeveloped,” a whimsical nod to the self-hatred that creeps in after a love spoils. And “Bleed” is an odd processional involving a lover whose insecurities lead to the death of her daughter; the song’s sorrowful subject matter works in the band’s light-handed grip.
Singer Shaver has the kind of voice that moves like a lazy river, delicate without being insubstantial; he’s able to use images like “April,” “snow” and “rain” in a single verse without coming off like some teary-eyed, wistful sack who thinks he’s Paul Simon, or that feline-boned singer in Travis. When Shaver sings a line about smoking cigarettes you hardly believe he’s a smoker. It’s like that. File under ashen skies and skeleton trees. www.thegiveaway.com.
Apathy is Worse than Hatred
There’s nothing in the enclosed bio that reveals anything about the band members’ ages, but goddamn does this four-piece (Keith Bedore, Vance Rev, Mike and Jason Fiedler) ever sound like kids. What’s great is that the songs burst forth, verging on derailment, complete with eyebrow-furrowing drumming, bee-in-a-bottle fuzz guitar, and swonk-swank counterrhythms. Chinese Happy sports a healthy love of So Cal punk rock circa the early ’80s, headily embracing the DIY punk ’tude, with the occasional irksome indie rock foray into mediocrity.
Droll lyrics tackling personal themes run the gamut of misplaced moms (“Annie”); a misanthropic girl buying the beauty myth sold to her on MTV (“Baby Named Dyin’”); the dangers of cigarettes (“When People Offer Me a Cigarette”); and the time-honored spin on the downside of dependency (“Plush Iron Bonds”). The best of the lot is the unwieldily titled “Oganized Religion Needs to Accept Its Peaceful Subcultural Minorities or Accept its Own Hypocrisy,” which details a punk rocker who worships God despite his church’s hatred of punks and gays. Elsewhere there’s references to Hoss and Cletus from Bonanza, a hip-chick schlepping coffee in a Blondie T-shirt; and how spoons are better suited for eating ice cream than they are for shooting coke.
It’s musical incompetence supplanted with exuberance, and you can hear the hormones raging. Apathy is Worse Than Hatred captures, in all its tumbledown glory, the hollow sound of the suburbs. It’s so dumb it’s great. And there’s even a five-plus minute bonus track of vacuous band banter! Besides, there’s absolutely nothing cooler than the image of a punk rock girl serving coffee in a Blondie tee.
Copies can be found at cooler indie shops or at www.chinesehappy.com.
In Staccato Libido
This merry band of reprobates has been playing local clubs in front of friends and few others for a spell now, offering up the kind of structured rumpus that is, well, never ever in style. As with any band ripping blues-based riffs in the tradition of Johnny Thunders, Joan Jett and old Joe Perry, this hellbent quintet (Don Moss, Justin Hall, Nick Dibuono, Gary Ando, Johnny Vee) would appear to be doomed. Yet they are determined to resurrect, or vainly keep alive, the Andy McCoy-spawned aesthetic of rat-nest coifs, sleeveless cowboy shirts, tats, hats and low-slung guitars with out-scissored legs.
In Staccato Libido is purposely smudged with a raggedly drunk and pocked surface. Song titles include words like “leather” and “whiskey,” and lyrics about “little devils” and “hanging out late on a Saturday night” stream throughout. There’s lots of “oh’s” sung in unison, stereo Les Pauls amped through Marshall stacks, handclaps under guitar solos, lead vocals buried in the mix … you get the picture. Hinting a greater musical range and lyrical profundity is not the band’s intent. Sure, the shtick is as tired as a pair of creepers with cracked soles, but who’s to say that ain’t worth a good drunken night out in some sticky corner bar, drinking dollar beers? That, friends, is Blamethrower’s whole point. And if you’ve a soft spot in your chest for flag-wavers of power-chord tear-ups currently adrift in the pop margins with zero hope of fiscal return or fame (think Jeff Dahl, the Dragons, the Spiders, etc.) you’ll find some mighty fine moments here. “Going Home” borders pure power pop, with liberal aural nods to contemporary rockist noise practitioners like the Wildhearts and the Hellacopters. “Silver and Gold” is a by-the-numbers distorto romp tailor-made for a line of coke and a swill of tap beer from a grimy glass.
Blamethrower is a band loaded with heart that rocks it like they stole it. Before you wave off these guys off as a bunch of backward-glancing Sunset Strip cast-offs, know that this record is more than just a medley of retreads; in this disc you can hear just how much they adore the Dolls, Iggy and the MC5. Singer Don Moss even shouts “Git-tar!” before a guitar solo and later yelps that “he’s no 12-step child” — all with nary a trace of irony. There’s even a guest appearance by Powertrane’s Scott Morgan, who plugs in a few backing vocals and some organ. All hail the three-chord churn! Copies of In Staccato Libido can be purchased from the band’s website: www.blamethrower.com.
Blamethrower will perform Thursday, Jan. 22, at the Lager House (1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit) with the Bad Ways and Big City Blackout. Call 313-961-4668.Brian Smith is the music editor of Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.