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Alt Rock





KITTY COEN

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2021 In Review: Spud Cannon shoots down too-easy expectations on Good Kids Make Bad Apples

Spud Cannon is a band that can make some new initiates a bit apprehensive at first. I mean sure they seem like wholesome kids but that’s just it, maybe too wholesome? The rosy cheeks. The peppy demeanor. The preppy-ish fashion sense. In other words all those things that typically indicate “crazed serial killer” in our culture. Not to mention the band’s adherence to an all-white dress code much like that creepy cult from The Leftovers but also not unlike that other spud-referencing band with a thing for matching outfits and catchy tunes and underlying anxiety.

But once you drop the needle on Good Kids Make Bad Apples any such apprehension melts away. Or least it does once the Spud Cannon squirts out the first of the album’s many glucose-infused musical hooks (apples and potatoes are full of natural sugars) just 17 or 18 seconds into the opening track “Juno” (don’t worry, it’s not about teen pregnancy) a distilled hit of surf-rock-power-pop-girl-group-dance-rock that makes social anxiety sound downright intoxicating when the tempo shifts into overdrive and the notes start bouncing off each another like a bunch of bumper cars with broken brake lines bumping each others' asses off.

But then the first melodic hook ends almost before it begins (no wonder the singer sings “got me feeling like I’m never gonna get enough” in double time) so you gotta go back to the back of the line and make it through the next verse (classic tension and release) which is no terrible hardship, after which you’re rewarded with a double hit of the hook followed by a post-hook afterglow made up aphsia-induced ‘ooh-ooh-ooh’s!’ and then the whole thing cycles around again but with some subtle guitar and keyboard counter-melodies thrown in for good measure building up and further up before reaching one last ecstatic, extended apex. And just like that it’s over in under three minutes time.

Lyrically, “Juno” is a song about missing your ride home from a party but taking it all in stride, taking notes on every intriguing stranger and every missed connection along the way (missed because the band’s too loud, your forgot your opening line, they’re not the right type, oops spilled your wine, etc.) but never giving up hope that “I could meet someone” or more existentially “I could be someone” which establishes a major theme for the album which is full of stories told by (and told about) all those who “can’t get no satisfaction” out of life (most of us, no?) or from being in love or being not in love, but still sounding pretty darn buoyant about it, an unbeat-downbeat dynamic nicely captured in the song and song title “You Got It All (NOT)”.

In this respect it’s pretty cool how the songs on Good Kids Make Bad Apples seem to be in dialogue with one another, with good kids calling out the bad apples even when they may be staring into the mirror. Like how on “Juno” near the end the party-going protagonist declares “I won’t be wasting my time / on garbage highs / I can go all night” but the next song “Supersonic” starts with the lines “uh-oh you’re lost on a cheap high / wide eyes on the hunt for your next ride.” Or how the wordless “ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-boop-be-doop” refrain from “You Got It All (NOT!)” is echoed by the wordless title phrase of “Na Na Na” which itself echoes the title and the “let the loser go” message of the late ‘60s hit “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” crossed with the chiding “na na na na’s” of the early ‘80s J. Giles Band. Some might call this “intertextuality,” both internal and external, and I would be surprised if the Five Spuds did too because these kids-cum-young-adults met at Vassar College and odds are at least one or two of them were Semiotics majors.

And speaking of Vassar College, GDMBA was recorded on “Squash Court #1” (self-produced no less) which sounds like some hipster Brooklyn studio but no it’s an actual squash court on Vassar College that was quite possibly maybe but not for sure surreptitiously taken over by the band late at night to get the impressively big, expansive Wall of Sound sound of the album which only magnifies its big shiny hooks and wide-ranging arrangements (with the core band augmented by brass, glockenspiels, and tubular bells or at least that’s what it sounds like) which makes me think squash courts should be used this way more often. Plus in the clip below you can see the Vassar squash coach isn’t even upset with Spud Cannon for scuffing the court with their glockenspiel what a good sport!

So in sum this Spud Cannon album released in Summer 2021 is perhaps even better-suited to the cold, snowy January of our discontent, proving that shiny happy people sounding music doesn’t have to be bad for you but instead can be part of a balanced musical meal providing all the vitamins and minerals found in stick-to-the-gut spud-based songwriting (going full-on punk rock for the anthemic “P.O.T.O.T.O”) creative implementation of squash courts, and songs about a bad apple or two or ten. (Jason Lee)

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2021 In Review: Been Stellar's "Kids 1995" is like a lucid dream

Been Stellar dropped “Kids 1995” in late November 2020 and it’s a pretty rockin' song, but with a strong undertow of melancholy too, not unlike a lot of the best alt-rock songs released in actual 1995—songs that make you wanna head-nod along, and hold your head in your hands, if both were possible at the same time.

This impression is only heightened when it comes to the hook (when the time is right / you just have to take it... / …with you, Jesus Christ / it’s like time is naked / and you feel all right / I’m not feeling too good myself) because for one thing it’s unclear whether “you just have to take it” is intended as positive-incentive or punishment or something else. And it's set to a propulsive rhythmic chug and a soul-laid-bare melodic hook that only heightens the "lucid dream" quality of this twisty four-and-a-half-minute song, all fuzzy around the edges but yearning for...something...it's difficult to say what exactly when dreams and realities get all blurred together in a lucid dream state.

And as it turns out "Kids 1995" is about a dream in reality so there ya go. More precisely, it's about a dream that's loosely related to the movie Kids (I watched the movie Kids / and then had a dream about you and me / but things are different / you’re holding a camera and yelling ‘Cut’), the notorious 1995 flick that opens and closes with Lou Barlow-penned songs (credited to Deluxx Folk Implosion and Sebadoh, respectively) and one of these songs is even name-checked in Been Stellar's lyrics (and then the credits rolled / ‘Spoiled’ Sebadoh) which is fitting since "Kids 1995" is Lou Barlow-level on the emotional resonance-o-meter.

And although the song's not 'about' Kids, the movie does echo through some of the lyrics (how did you get to this place / how many hits did you take; or; he died of old age / in the prime of his youth) and either way there’s a "fall from innocence" theme happening for sure. What’s more, singer/lyricist Sam Slocum says the friend with the camera in the opening lines basically acts as "a foil" of the song narrator’s own internal struggles and uncertainties. And in the same interview where I stole this tidbit from, he also reveals that "Kids 1995" was originally written a couple of years ago and even though the song has evolved “it almost feels like I’m watching a movie of my past self” in releasing it recently.

So let's see if I've got this right? Been Stellar have written a song about a dream inspired in part by a movie, but also about a guy shooting a movie, but the guy in question is a projection of the dreamer in part at least, a song about a dream which to one of its creators feels like watching a movie of his own past life. Cool. I'm digging the whole Hall of Mirrors thing going on here—fragments of dreams, realities, memories, fantasies all reflecting back against each other ad infinitum—which only heightens the lucid dream impression I'm already feeling from the music.

Plus I'd say Larry Clark’s Kids is a perfect reference point for capturing this vibe because it's about as lucid as movies get (maybe a little too real at times) but equally dreamlike too (the handheld camera and 'total immersion' aesthetic make it feel like you're on as many drugs as the kids) plus when it comes to "loss of innocence" what movie could be more fitting which is probably why when it was originally unleashed into theaters some reviewers deemed Kids an instant masterpiece (or later, an enduring masterpiece) while others deemed it “nihilistic pornography.” Likewise, the fates of the actual kids cast in the movie (a motley crew of skate kids, street kids, and scenesters, not a single professional actor among them) diverged widely with two of the kids becoming cinematic critical darlings and superstars (including the 19-year old screenwriter) while a couple of the kids sadly ended up dying tragically young which is the kind of life's crossroads that "Kids 1995" is about...so full circle!



The other big selling point for watching Kids today is how it functions as a lurid love letter to pre-gentrification New York City, and Manhattan in particular, having been filmed just before the borough was transformed forever by the Giuliani administration which is more than mere nostalgia for anyone who’s lived in NYC long enough, past or present, likely to identify with the eternal struggle against the corporate merchants of conformity. 

And Been Stellar appear to side with the iconoclasts in valuing the vital energy of 'New York Gritty' and in doing their part to capture and preserve the city's energy in song and also in music visual form—with Kids-reminiscent shaky, handheld camcorder footage as witnessed across their video output.

The band even maintain this vital energy when they slow things down a bit as on the "Kids 1995" B-side “Optimistic”—a shimmering deceptively mellow tune that builds to an emotional peak about 2/3 of the way through before receding back to a more contemplative vibe but giving notice that "now you must decide / does this mean we speak our truth / or are we just getting by?" thus distilling down what I'd consider (rightly or wrongly!) the core question behind the A-side's lucid dreaming plus much of their other output so far. (Jason Lee)

Band photo by @drake_lcl

 





F*ck You, Tammy seeing double on Twin Peaks cover version

The final episode of Twin Peaks’ second season was originally broadcast on June 10, 1991, its last episode for over 25 years. The episode (in)famously ended with an extended, mind-bending sequence set in the Black Lodge where some of the show's lead characters are trapped, but in the form of their evil doppelgängers, including an “Evil Coop” which was a shocker since Agent Dale Cooper was the all-American-black-coffee-and-cherry-pie-lovin’ hero of the series. But in the end, the real-world Good Coop is trapped in purgatory with his mirror-image facsimile Evil Coop released into the world to wreck havoc having been possessed by the show's personification of evil Killer BOB who grins and rants manically at fake Cooper from a fractured mirror. And, oh yeah, SPOILER ALERT! 

This was the unresolved ending to a show already fixated on doubles, dualities, and doppelgängers for the duration of its first two seasons. So it’s fitting there's a band out there called F*ck You, Tammy (see Twin Peaks: The Return to get the reference, again a doppelgänger is involved) who formed to perform live versions of music from the Twin Peaks universe. Because when you think about it, copies and interpolations of pre-existing songs (a.k.a. “cover versions”) are essentially the musical equivalent of doppelgängers—with covers having near-identical surface characteristics to the original in most cases (the same lyrics, melodies, chords) but nonetheless transformed into something new, whether a semi-precise-but-not-quite-exact imitation or a more radical reinterpretation. 

The song that's covered by F*ck You, Tammy at the top of this page is called “Sycamore Trees”, composed by frequent David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti with lyrics by Lynch himself. It was introduced in the Twin Peaks episode described above when Agent Cooper first enters the Black Lodge, sung on camera by the legendary Jimmy Scott (or rather, mimed on camera to his own voice). The F.U. Tammy rendition fittingly adheres to the David Lynch ideal of a near-identical doppelgänger. But one with significant differences gradually becoming visible, or rather audible, a copy that takes on a life of its own. 

And speaking of copies taking on a life of their own, here’s how lead singer Devery Doleman describes their rendition: "Sycamore Trees" is one of my favorite songs to perform because not only is it an incredible song, but it's such an intimate back and forth between everyone in the band: there are certain moments where the band follows the vocal, others where the vocal responds to the band.  Maybe our third show Anthony, our sax player, decided that he would wait somewhere off stage and then start the sax solo from the audience, and we've done at each live show since. And it feels from my point of view that in the first half of the song she is searching for someone in the woods, and when the sax comes in, it's the arrival of the person she's seeking - but it's different every time we perform the song. I think our version, while faithful to the original, is even darker if that's possible. 

In common with Twin Peaks' doppelgängers, the song's original vocalist Jimmy Scott also knew a thing or two about being one way on the outside while being another way on the inside, as a result of Kallman Syndrome—a syndrome causing its victim to never reach puberty which accounted for Mr. Scott eternally boyish appearance and striking soprano voice, but a voice weighed down by adult experience and heartbreak. A specialist in cover songs, he was known for wringing nuance and pathos out of familiar pop tunes and jazz standards, locating their dark underbelly with his tremulous-but-super-intense vibrato like on “Laughing on the Outside” above where the emphasis is definitely more on “crying on the inside.”

And finally, a final plug for the recent pair of DELI-assembled year-end 2020-2021 comps (check out PART I and PART II on Spotify!) which serve as twin doppelgängers in their own right (!) and which contain seven count ‘em seven (!) cover versions covering the full spectrum of coverdom—with Cigar Cigarette & MOTHERMARY doing Cyndi Lauper, Catherine Moan doing Depeche Mode, Weekend Lovers doing George Michael, Slut Magic doing Bobby Darin, Desert Sharks doing ’Til Tuesday, Spite FuXXX doing Dolly Parton, and Jess Casinelli doing The Smiths. (Jason Lee)

Cover photo by Simon Sun





Bad Static explore sweet-and-sour duality on "Cherry Cyanide" EP

Hey, did you know you can get poisoned and maybe even die from eating too many cherry pits? Well neither did I, that is, until hearing the new Bad Static EP Cherry Cyanide released today. Because, as hinted at in the title, cherry pits contain a chemical that once ingested gets converted into the toxic compound hydrogen cyanide. The more you know!

But this EP isn't a science lesson, instead it taps into the longstanding status of cherries as a metaphoric device. So it makes sense Cherry Cyanide is a concept album (erm, concept EP) based around the notion that some things (or even people) in life may be sweet on the outside but then turn out to be not-so-sweet on the inside if not downright toxic. Take the EP’s eponymous opening song, for instance, which starts with a familiar three-chord major-key progression that sounds like the band’s about to launch into a fun-loving cover version of “Louie Louie” or “Wild Thing” or “Walking on Sunshine.” 

But then there's a sudden shift when the drums kick in alongside a low-key menacing minor-key descending guitar riff, and lyrics about how you’ll soon be “foaming at the mouth / oh there is no doubt / my cherry cyanide / will make you wanna die.” Meaning when the chorus returns to those major chords from before with entreaties to “Kiss me! Kiss me!” and “Drink me! Drink me!” you may have second thoughts given what you’ve learned about cherry pit consumption and the consequences of fatal kisses even though the “bittersweet ending” is still tempting and it's this seductive-yet-dangerous vibe that the song really captures. The more you know!

And speaking of surface prettiness/inner menace it’s fitting the Cherry Cyanide press release namechecks bands like the Runaways and the lesser-known Anemic Boyfriends as influences–the latter being an underage Anchorage-based early ‘80s punk rock trio (!) led by one “Louise Disease” whose über-bratty, sneering leering delivery is appropriate to her moniker–because here are two bands who used surface prettiness to get a foot in the door in order to kick your teeth in with their take-no-prisoners ‘tude and music, a strategy used by many female rock musicians past and present to fight the frequent sexism of rock audiences and the music industry (except for “emerging artist music blogs” which are hardly part of the "industry" and always enlightened!) plus either way it’s pretty cool to be a glamorous savage no matter your gender.

The next song “Ectoplasm Nightmares” continues this theme of inner/outer duality–except the narrative perspective is switched to that of the victim–with lyrics about being possessed by an outside presence, i.e., “feeling haunted by people from your past and going to drastic measures to try and forget.” Bad Static put this across musically by starting off with a plodding beat and doomy Sabbath-y sorta riff before kicking into a driving double-time rhythm with lyrical pleas for demonic exorcism and warnings of crumbling sanity before lead singer Nicol Maciejewska (whose vocals up to this point alternate between sedated and sneering) tops off the song with a growling “you’re making me go insaaaaane!” and a burst of crazy-kookoo-train manic laughter as the music disintegrates behind her.

The third-and-final song “Reanimation” is inspired by necromancy with “little whispers building up inside…calling you from the gra-a-a-ave” and here again the narrative perspective changes, but this time switching to the entity or entities haunting the narrator in the previous song, which is a neat way to put across the loss of a grounded, singular perspective that’s inherent to some forms of mental illness (and to modern art natch) which is another theme of the song and again the music nails the vibe cuz I've got scenes from Evil Dead playing in my head when this plays.

And this one's the most Runaways-esque of the bunch with its throbbing power chords and stuttering vocal delivery (from “ch-ch-cherry bomb” to “I’ve been calling you from the gra-a-a-ave”) and one can only hope that the galvanizing musical presentation here by Nicol (vox, rhythm guitar) Kelsie (backing vox, bass) Mario (lead guitar, production) and Demetrio (drums, percussion) and the not-so-subliminal mantra of “reanimate me!” don't lead to an epidemic of children playing with dead things despite the PSA message contained in the opening lyric. (Jason Lee)

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