LIFE PARTNER “DEAD WRESTLERS” REVIEW ON AMERICAN GLOAM.
We’re stuck in muck. Muck that is slowed down by a non-going Winter. It’s eating us all. We’re queached in a dumb Winter that has quarantined us in a quicksand pit. Trying to lift our legs and relieve ourselves. But we’re stuck in this. Nothing but wintry discharge. Fucking stupid. Held back.
In this Winter bullshit, the “Dead Wrestlers” tape is a fucking godsend. Like, no, really: GODsend. Like there is a GOD, and everything you thought was bullshit was actually real and the Steve Martin joke about how everything you thought was bullshit that I just repeated was real, and there was a Heaven and Angels and that bullshit was real, and you were handed a cassette from this bearded muscular man from a cloud in a linstock hand firing fucking music at you from beyond reality.
I saw Life Partner something like a year ago at the Chestnut House.That place has died. Life Partner lives. LIVES. And he/it/they still LIVE in the muck, making tuned-down beast-clomp-tempo observations that amount to simple truisms that make a stuck Winter possible to survive. I think he’s somewhere still in Chicago-via-Louisville. Doesn’t matter. This is mayo for the soul. It’s quid for the consciousness, dripping putridly on your fly at 3AM.
This tape is actually more upbeatish than that last one I procured, “Dogs.” This one finds the guitars and drums turned up more. Faster tempos. We’re still succumbing to Aaron Osbourne’s qualmy life view, but it’s a life view I subscribe to. These are visions that happen when you don’t believe what you see, hear and especially what you do on a daily basis. And you don’t care. It’s a garage-punk-grunge-rock-fuk all that communicates some sewn honesty.
“Dead Wrestlers” is in direct lineage to “Dogs,” but finds it finding more of its own findings, and not fighting it. Bigger. Actually, my main compliment is that there are more songs here to enjoy from Osbourne. His songwriting is to the point; lyrics don’t fuck around. Straight to the stab. Doesn’t make chopsticks in getting to the coffin. Quaalude vox over downstrummed distortion. Depressocore? No. I find solace jammed in this heavyhanded heartedness. Let’s invent new genres. Gloomrock. Bummergazer. Shut up, me. Stupid Kids. That’s me. Don’t listen to me.
And is the song “Life Champion” referencing Sophomore Lounge mates Giving Up and State Champion? Am I scouring too much into this? That song has the optimism I look for with Aaron: “I’m giving up, your god is dead.”
Osbourne writes some goddamned catchy choruses here while addressing the foothills of regular shit that happens in regular life, and it’s what I appreciate about his songwriting. I mean, Jesus, “Live for the Day”: It’s honest and “you have no plans for the future, you’re a loser, that’s how it is.”
So highly recommended. Or lowly recommended. But, really.
ALSO, be sure to check out this stream of Tabs Out Podcast #24, featuring new music from Life Partner, Marnie Stern, Aaron Dilloway/C Spencer Yeh, and more!
SOMEWHAT INSANE AMOUNT OF “BAD HISTORY” PRESS CAME IN WHILE I WAS ON TOUR. You can read a lot of it below. I think there’s probably more, but I had to stop looking for fear of falling so deep into the internet that I would never return to the mortal world.
Fat History Month makes songs that can sound punk progressive and totally lackadaisical at the same time. A song like Everyday is Christmas can make you feel tipsy one moment and angry the next and this is just from the ever changing shift in tone and texture, and time signatures. The wonderfully down trodden Cat in a Box will have you taking in strays and become a cat lady even if you’re a guy: “I’m in a cardboard box that’s soggy wet and I still think it’s keeping me dry.” This somewhat acoustic track still feels as thick and strident as the rest of the album exploding when the drums kick in. Is it really about a cat (?), no way. Love this track.
Melodies seemingly wander aimlessly on most of these tracks and guitar strings bend and half step almost as a matter of course making this all seem like a dreamy askew trip. The discordant nature makes you feel the compositions in your gut. The title track, Bad History Month feels itself like a dusty Western. Very much like a lazy ride on a horse until it gets all heavy and disjointed like a rock slide. Some of the music interludes are absolutely head tripping.
The Future, musically, pumps out some progressive garage strains that somehow make me think of At the Drive In. Probably the most conventional composition and still out there as it implodes, breaks apart, gets a bit mellow and pretty and then ends with a electronic industrial sound. The last track, I Ate Myself And I Want To Die is avant-garde, weird and beautiful at the same time. As it slows to breathe, the guitar lines chase themselves as the rest of the song feels like it needs to catch up. This song moves along in a linear fashion, not feeling the need to follow conventional patterns (who needs verses and choruses anyway). This can feel oddly rewarding, each part revealing new discoveries. For some of you, it might be so strange as to be off putting. Me, I revel in things that are different and applaud what Fat History Month is laying down. These songs may feel like fever dreams but they are dreams nonetheless. Open your mind and check Fat History Month out.
Boston’s underground music scene has taken a few major hits to its foundation over the past month. Venerable alternative publication the Boston Phoenix halted press for good after struggling to stay afloat financially in the Internet age, as did the air waves being emitted from its radio station WFNX (which had already downgraded itself from a proper FM format to online-only before pulling the plug altogether.) Area cops are trolling around message boards and social media in hopes of cracking down on those dastardly “DIY concerts.” On top of all this, the city that spawned one of the most influential hardcore scenes out there continues hugging its grudge against moshing with a ban it set in place over a year ago. Down on its luck seems to be the going trend within the Hub these days, and local DIY kingpins Fat History Month have just the sound to harden the frown. Spending years building an awkward name for themselves throughout the region’s basement show circuit, the duo of guitaring dirt-eater Jeff Meff and drummer Bob Hobby bear the weight of classic indie rock with an easy-to-swallow pop perfectionist gluttony. They just released the album that should reverberate past New England corners with their sophomore effort Bad History Month through Exploding In Sound Records, making them labelmates to fellow BUZZSound alumni such as Speedy Ortiz and Pile. Unlike their noisy Baystate punk brethren, however, Fat History Month’s wordy eargasms look at the hysterical side of self-pathetic love and life quandaries through broken frames while reading the liner notes of The Lonesome Crowded West, Spiderland, Brighten the Corners and even some of Dave Matthews Bands’ mid-’90s peak bro chillness all wrong. The lyrics are wrought with detail in the way that “you can’t make this shit up,” and while any fool can pretend to be a fuck up like Isaac Brock, these dudes’ rough exteriors shows that they live the part. Currently, Meff and Hobby are surfing couches and sleeping on strange peoples’ floors across the U.S. in support of Bad History Month until April end. Hopefully, Boston is still standing by the time they get back. If not, it’s one more story about crumb luck heading toward listeners stereos to bash their heads and hearts into.
The drums-and-guitar two-piece Fat History Month is easy to root for. The two make an art form of mopey slackerism with everything from their shrugged-off name to the moody tempos to the song titles, which they reuse like two-day old socks (“Free as a Cat” here, “Free as a Cat on a Leash” there, with “Cat in a Box” popping up later).
But underneath the scruff, there’s also a restless Little Engine That Could. The duo’s combustion of tidal wave guitars and gutsy song structures makes them perfect heroes for a scene of DIY underdogs. It’s a mutant mix of confessional folk and ear-piercing garage fuzz that shifts a bit with every show.
“We lost our practice space in Allston a couple years ago,” says singer/guitarist Jeff Meff, talking over a spotty cellphone connection from a tour stop in Idaho. “Since then, I’ve pretty much had to write everything on acoustic, so that’s led to maybe a different approach.”
Fat History Month, who have just released their third full-length album — “Bad History Month” (on which you’ll also find the song “Bald History Month”) — have grown into one of the city’s most beloved bands because of their willingness to adapt. The duo have been officially putting out records since 2009, developing a unique mind-meld style of performance in the years since. While constant rehearsing can often lead to thrillingly regimented live workouts, Fat History Month uses their chops more like a compass — their shows are a bit like improvised road trips.
“When we end up playing the songs the same over and over — like the way the new album is so composed — things get a little boring after a while,” says drummer Bob Hobby (the two prefer stage names). “So at shows, I try and keep messing up until it all sounds like it’s on purpose.”
This MacGyver approach can go haywire, but it often ends up in a beautifully averted train wreck. “It is basically like throwing some rubber bands and gum at the drums and seeing if that fixes things. Sometimes if you’re really feeling it, you can go off the handle.”
And going off the handle is central to their sound, which mixes spurts of thorny prog-rock riffing and Deerfhoof style berzerker drums with a heavy dose of Gen-X dejection. The guitar is a bramble of strange chording that’s likely a result of Meff’s teaching himself how to play it from scratch as the band evolved. “Bad History Month” wouldn’t feel out of place with muddy old Sebadoh and Modest Mouse tapes and tempos.
Meff’s singing is cathartic like the last tired throes of a temper tantrum. In the aforementioned “Cat in a Box,” he strings together a shut-in housecat’s diary entries in rhythms of depressive dead-of-the-night phone calls. “If you let me out and let me roam beyond the back yard/ I could make friends with everyone/ Because it’s not that [expletive] hard/ To be happy when you finally leave home.” It’s not a mystery why they’ve struck a chord with a college-fueled underground scene.
A rowdy crowd at the Middle East recently testified as much, holding onto the edge of the stage like sailors waiting for their sea legs under the band’s oddball churning rhythms. It was a tour send-off show for this current trip, which has them on the West Coast this weekend. It’s not often that the band plays in town through a full-on sound system capable of blasting vocals loud and clear — they’ve built their Boston following in scrappy house and basement shows through blown-out PA systems — and it’s great to every warped detail of the lyrics (“This is an ode to all the old lady smokers/ I wish you could wear your sticky black lungs as a bra” goes one nugget from “Old Lady Smokers”).
Even with only half-discernible vocals, though, the moody tug of the music can seem like an odd fit for house parties — and they’re all right with that. Meff says they’ve made attempts at “party jams” that rocked power chords in the past.
“We’d be playing all these depressing songs in the middle of parties all the time and felt like we needed something a little peppier,” says Meff, pointing to a handful of songs on their last album that genuinely blast off. That approach didn’t exactly carry over to the new album.
“Some of these songs are so sad!” he says, almost in disbelief, and already trying to get a self-deprecating look down the road. “Hopefully I can get around to writing some more before Bob starts to get sick of them.”
Anyone who’s been to any number of shows in Allston in past 3 years already knows all about this band; I myself look for every opportunity I can to state “Fat History Month is my favorite fucking band”. After 2011′s Fucking Despair, FHM released a demo of songs last summer to raise money for their new record, Bad History Month. Released by Sophomore Lounge (who put out Fucking Despair) and Exploding in Sound, they put it up on Bandcamp for streaming on April Fool’s Day, and the results are beautiful enough to soften the hardest dickheads.
The Bandcamp page says Fucking Despair was their comedy album, this is their tragedy, and that seems pretty apparent. No other band seems to do the simultaneously funny and sad dynamic like FHM, this has always been the case, but this album is indeed heavy on the sad. The line “I can’t help but feelin’ like the first human to hate a neanderthal” from the title track leaves you a little less proud to be a human, if you chew on it a bit. The Future ends on a huge bummer about cancer despite the songs vaguely upbeat feel. There Goes the Sun has this beautiful shimmering change up as Sean sings “Love is blind and so is rage”. Cat in a Box should get an award for being the saddest song ever written to clock in under three minutes (and that blood in my chest/is suddenly worth/more than sex and love and gold). All this melancholy remains grounded by Mark’s drumming, supplying the grooves necessary so that this album doesn’t end up being the kind of record you only throw on when you’ve had a shitty day. But you WILL be throwing it on every time you have a shitty day.
Absent from this album are the kind of epic jams that were on Fucking Despair; no track seems to bust the five minute mark. Given the theme of this album, this is probably for the best, else they’d have to standby to give everyone who bought the LP a hug. Also included is a 30 page comic and 11×17 poster by Adric Giles, who some may or may not know better as the drummer boy in CGS Power Trio, Allston’s favorite prog band, a good reason to buy two copies.
Built On A Weak Spot:
Fucking Despair was a pretty big hit with me when it came out a couple years ago. For Fat History Month, it was supposed to be their comedy album, apparently…despite my assurances that aside from a crude drawing on the cover of the album, the comedy was certainly of a darker flavor. Now, the band has returned with their new album through Exploding in Sound & Sophomore Lounge titled Bad History Month, which is a pretty great title. However, if their previous album was supposed to be a comedy…then you can only imagine what things lie ahead when the band claims this new effort to be a “tragedy”. I wasn’t actually aware of this before listening through it the first time and by the end of the album I was certainly feeling the effects of it. As much as Fat History Month showed their ability to create some tongue in cheek subtleties with Fucking Despair while masking it in a deep pool of bleakness, they’ve certainly strayed away from the humor some here and prove to the listener that they can develop an unwavering seriousness about the accumulating sensation of self-hatred…with every step leading to just another reason to never leave the living room.
With Bad History Month, the band isn’t dabbling so much in the sprawling and, at times, glacial like movements that their previous album explored, but rather this is a much more straight forward boiling down of early to mid-nineties awkward dude indie-rock. I think I mentioned it in my original review of Fucking Despair that the band shared a certain ability to that of early Modest Mouse in how they were able to nearly perfectly capture the depressing stage of nowheresville for many of 20 somethings and the inevitable amount of self-loathing that comes along with it. For a couple albums, Modest Mouse were pretty brilliant in that respect. Fat History Month undoubtedly are able to push that same feeling of fear and anxiety 100% and have put together an album with Bad History Month that plays out with such perfect pacing to mirror it…between all of its stuttering and loose ends. It reminds so much of a lot of the slacker type rock of the nineties…very much in the area of There’s Nothing Wrong With Love era Built to Spill (maybe without some of the mushiness) or maybe more so earlier Pavement albums. A song like “Cat in a Box” is the very type that has sent me into a snowball like effect of similarly styled music listening habits over the past couple days, leaving me actively searching for anything and everything through my collection that could make me feel worse than that song does. So far not a whole lot matches it. Fantastic effort from these guys and one that honestly gets better each time through…despite the effects it may have on my mental state.
Consequence of Sound:
Bad History Month, the sophomore effort from indie pranksters Fat History Month, opens on some befuddling terms. There’s this dog that lies sleepily in the shade underneath a family tree, only to arise angrily to chase down and eat the poor bastard who made the unwise decision to wake it up by kicking it.
Odd, yeah, but that minute and a half of sublime silliness goes a long way toward explaining the tunefully tweaked place these bratty Bostonians come from. Bad History Month, like its predecessor, Fucking Despair, is another delightful sonic potshot at singer/songwriter sappiness, with singer/guitarist Jeff Meff and drummer Bob Hobby crafting oddball songs couched in a charming, lo-fi indie pop sound. Imagine the lean angularity of early Modest Mouse stamped with Ween’s shrill sense for satire, and you’ve got a glimpse inside Fat History Month’s trippy musical wheelhouse.
Fucking Despair earned plentiful local accolades in and around Boston’s fervent indie community, and Bad History Month seems primed to expand upon Meff and Hobby’s small cult of admirers. The songs are a little sharper, while Meff spiels whimsically about cowboys sitting in the dirt (“Bad History Month”), love blown into tissues (“Cat In The Box”), and other tongue-in-cheek lyrical fare. But while the duo exhibits a well-honed sense of humor, Bad History Month offers up more than simple shits and giggles. Beneath the absurdity lies a duo with a finessed ear for the scrappy indie rock and lo-fi folk sounds that painted the American rock underground red in the ’90s.
Fat History Month has the songwriting chops to make it without the goofball gimmickry if they wanted to, but the duo’s ribald sense of humor, combined with their musicianship, makes for a pretty airtight pairing.
When someone mentions music from Boston, it tends to bring forth images of bands like Aerosmith, Dropkick Murphys, Extreme, Godsmack, or Buffalo Tom. Those bands that seems to push forward purely on the power of their own balls. Their is a certain working class element to the city that bleeds into the music that has come to define it. When I think of Boston however, I think of two other bands. When Mission of Burma first broke in the late-seventies, they really birthed the DIY ideology that would take full shape a few years later in the form of the hardcore punk movement and SST Records. That band defied definition then and still does so today. Almost a decade later, Boston birthed The Pixies; a band that would come to define the sound of the alternative rock movement before Nirvana was even a thought. This is the lineage that is more important to understanding Boston’s Fat History Month and their sophomore LP Bad History Month.
While I certainly can’t claim Fat History Month is a group that will have the historical significance of Burma or the Pixies, but there are some seriously good indicators that bandmembers Jeff Meff (guitar/vocals) and Bob Hobby (drums) have a lot of the same qualities that made those bands great. The bands you will see or hear referenced most in relation to Fat History Month are Pavement and Modest Mouse. Those sound similarities are apparent on Bad History Month, but I continue coming back to the less easy references like the band’s Burma-esque chaotic song structures, Pixie-like subtle appreciation of melody, and Black Francis approach to borderline mythological surrealist lyrics. On top of it all, the boys have that same Do-It-Yourself-And-Fuck-The-Rest attitude that truly defined those groups. Starting as a basement party band, Bad History Month have forced their way to local attention through a loyal fanbase and they seem to care less. What else does a critic need for a serious crush?
We live in a world
Where all the toilets flush themselves
It’s for your safety
-Fat History Month, “The Future”
That’s all window dressing however. The meat of the subject is the actual music. What is present on Bad History Month is a little deceptive. It would be easy to hear these two and write them off pretty quickly as a rehash of 90′s alternative rock. There is a lot of fuzzy guitar and snotty attitude about absolute nonsense. What makes it deceptive is that Jeff and Bob are clearly students of this era. They understand that, above all, the most important aspect of that era was that all bets were off. You can borrow from anywhere and talk about anything and see what works. The key to the whole decade was playing like you didn’t care at all, while you clearly cared a lot. It’s a trait the boys share with another of this year’s best bands Parquet Courts. So, sure, Jeff’s lyrics are sarcastic (and damn funny), but that doesn’t mean they take some nihilistic bang-the-noisy-thing approach to the song structures. In the same vein of Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, Built to Spill, and Neutral Milk Hotel, Fat History Month are out to prove that rock music can be fun, smart, and tasteful all at the same time. In that respect, they pretty much hit the nail on the head.
I ingest every pound of my flesh
Until I was just an asshole
-Fat History Month, “I Ate Myself and I Want To Die”
My strongest complaint with Bad History Month is the record’s pacing. The wall of cyclical fuzz that hits you on the nose during the album’s first half with “The Future” and “Everyday is Christmas” leaves one a little spent by the time you reach some of the later highlights. The repetition of sound becomes a little hypnotic by the time you reach what would otherwise have been my favorite moment here “There Goes The Sun”. I have no doubt these guys will work that out naturally as they continue to toy around in the studio and fill our their sound more. At the very least, the more comedic moments are enough to keep one’s attention peaked.
As Fat History Month engage on a packed national tour over the next few months, I have no doubt these two will be doing a lot to shore up their own sound. If Bad History Month is any indication, there’s not that much work to be done. On this record, it’s almost hard to believe that only two people are creating all of this sound and doing it without ever letting the wheels fall from the bus. Jeff and Bob sound like they just really enjoy making noise together. Sometimes, that’s just what you need for a great rock band. Well, that and enough cash for replacement amps.
Fat History Month seems to be continuously touring and recording since their first single, “Safe and Sound” on Bedroom Suck Records. Between shows in Boston and New York they seem to be perpetually in the middle of a northeast tour. They’ve released countless cassettes and singles to date and the duo of Jeff Meff on vocals/guitar and Bob Hobby on drums have just put the finishing touches on their sophomore full length Bad History Month, a joint release from Sophomore Lounge and Exploding in Sound Records. The title track and single “Bad History Month” continues where their previous full length, Fucking Despair left off. Barely audible, gently brushed guitar to the snap of metal strings, feathery high hat vibrations to pounding smack snare hits, these are the extremes…
…in Bad History Month’s dynamics within the first few measures. They constantly set up an expectation of collapse with off kilter rhythms that can’t possibly remain perched on the edge of this timing. The reverb is a surf variety of echo but that’s the only effect in this stripped down setup. These two almost counterintuitively keep things minimal, the highs and lows are executed with the utmost precision of bursts. Meff sings in Issac Brock’s style of deadpan empathy, layering in a higher register yell, flickering guitar strings while Hobby matches every heavy step, twitching with fills. They aren’t after the arrangement of notes but rhythm and volume. They create the calmest of seas that turn in an instant, swallowing the tiny melody whole. As fast as it blew in, the track fades out. They’ve been known to take their brand of post rock to incredibly complex places, investigating untested math equations and exotic time signatures, but when they rise to an epic peak, you’ll forget all of these details.
First Order Historians:
Fat History Month are a duo that exceed the normal confines of a guitar and drums band. Silly name aside, Bad History Month is a heavy dose of late 90′s/00′s indie rock nostalgia. Melding songs in the same disjointed guitar line ways that The Joggers did but with vocal melodies that avoid too many off-notes. They are mathy at times, pop at times and ass kicking always. There is plenty of distortion without turning into a hard rock album and enough hooks to have you pushing the repeat button often. Everyday is Christmas is a fine example of how the brooding nature of their music nestles nicely with the cocksure bravado approach as if they are egging you on to rock out but they want you to do it with a grimace on your face. There are many times you wonder if the songs are going to dissolve into a jangly mess but each song finds a steady footing, even if it takes a bit to get there. Bald History Month wants to blow up in your face but it is the restraint that you gravitate to and at the 2:20 mark the bridge??, brings on some great guitar lines including a start/stop moment which builds to the finish. Most duo’s sounds just like that and are very limited by lack of other musicians but Fat History Month fills every crevice with sound and has enough sonic variation to warrant many, many listens. Score: 8.5/10
Here’s what I think of, in rough order, when the topic of two-person rock bands comes up: 1. Bands who took the “We only have two members” restriction as a dare to make the most noise possible (godheadSilo, Lightning Bolt, Hella, Big Business). 2. Married or once-married couples banking that romantic chemistry translates to musical chemistry (The White Stripes, Mates of State, The Like Young, and, even though it feels strange to mention them here, The Evens). 3. Holy shit The Black Keys are popular. 4. Watching post-grunge survivalists Local H from the back of The Highdive in Champaign with the evening’s now-implausible opening act The Dismemberment Plan. 5. When you name a band Drums and Tuba, you can’t add a guitarist. Come on. 6. Don’t make me talk about The Dresden Dolls, please don’t. 7. Wait, did I really forget Wye Oak until now?
Somehow I’m not surprised that one of my favorite current acts slipped from memory in favor of archetypes, improbable arena acts, and gimmicks. When I think of Wye Oak, I focus on the songs first, then sometime later the image of drummer Andy Stock playing keyboard bass lines with his left hand will pop into my head, reminding me that they lack a proper bassist. I don’t think of them as a two-piece because there are more important things to think about. Make no mistake, it’s a compliment.
A few months from now, after Fat History Month’s sophomore LP Bad History Month has enjoyed an extended residency on my turntable, I’ll be paying the Boston-based duo the same compliment. Right now I’m busy marveling at the ways guitarist Jeff Meff fills the mix, balancing folk finger-picking, knotted chords, agitated strafing, and panoramic melodies. You might not even realize there’s only one guitarist at work; the first time I saw them, I abandoned an obstructed-view perch for confirmation. Once you do, however, you’ll quickly forget it in the best way possible.
Bad History Month steers between the restless coming-of-age seen on Modest Mouse’s Lonesome Crowded West and the careful arrangements of American Football, a compelling combination of nerves and calm. On a micro level, the band excels at subtle dynamic shifts, the (relatively) quiet but distinct ebbs and flows that ’90s math/post-rock groups explored when avoiding the line at the crescendo rollercoaster.
Without a full lyric sheet on hand, it’ll be tough to make the case for how well Meff tempers humor with sadness and vice versa, but the fact that “I Ate Myself and Want to Die” and “Bald History Month” are anything but novelty songs should help. (An April Fool’s Day release date—that’s less help.) For every ponderous line like “I feel my fear moving away / In me from time, for a billion years” in “Bald History Month,” you’ll also get chuckles from “We live in a world where toilets flush themselves / But here’s good news, people like to live dangerously” in “The Future.” If Bad History Month is their tragic record, at least they’ve found the brighter corners of depression.
Fat History Month is a Boston-based indie rock duo that incorporates bits of freak-folk, lo-fi, hard rock, DIY prog, and garage blues elements into their music. It is extremely difficult to create so much force and sense of space with guitar and drums as these guys generate and their sophomore full-length album Bad History Month (Sophomore Lounge, 2013) continues to prove their exquisite execution and exemplary songwriting which pulls from late 90′s era Modest Mouse to the more frenetic side of mid-2000′s Devendra Banhart with flourishes of all kind to fill in the nooks and crannies. They play in the pocket with extreme tightness, but those glorious nooks and crannies. That’s where this band lives.
Until the band members’ last names come to light, we’ll get to know them on a first name basis. Sean, on vocals and guitar, is ridiculously deft on the guitar and propels a great indie vocal delivery style that is characterized by nimble melodies, DIY attitude, and touches of hollering here and there. Mark, on drums, has a powerful style which fills the space as both rhythm and melody. His cymbal work is performed at the level of a jazz musician while he employs hefty fills with the snares and toms performed with a lot of class for how heavily rock infused the rhythms are. The guitar settles on straightforward clear tones with a touch of drive and reverb as needed. The finger-picked playing style gives the classic 4/4 beat a facelift when Sean creates the perception of odd time signatures with unexpected interplay between bass notes and relentless treble hammer-ons and pull-offs. Instrumentally this record is sophisticated but youthful, an extremely difficult kind of vibe to write and Fat History Month executes these tracks with precision. The vocals are present in every track and hold roughly half of the listener’s attention with the rest of each track devoted to instrumental prowess. Occasionally the vocals are doubled, giving a low register drawling lead melody overlaid with a countertenor holler to give some oomph. The vocals are tastefully produced to draw the listener in but definitely give a rawness to the album that makes for a very compelling listen. These guys believe that intensity comes from the playing, not just from being able to manipulate levels and pre-amps to instill the feel they’re going for. And on this album, they make believers.
The tracks are dynamic. They are very linear in their structure, and often you get the sense that each guitar lick and vocal falls into the next segment. The songs unfold with a youthful energy that mimics running downhill in the woods, bounding joyously with momentum bumps and jarring fallen branches, laughing all the way. There are extreme juxtapositions of frenetic energy with sudden resolution, only to rapidly build back up to the forceful amplitude they seem to revel in as band mates. But for how overt the energy shifts are in their music, their songs are very nuanced. Consider the rambunctious instrumental break in third track “The Future”, with wailing guitar fuzzed solo over relentless hammering on the crash and floor tom only to immediately break again into this beautiful finger-picked melody way up on the fret board, giving it an angelic innocence that couldn’t possibly be coming from the same guitar that was just being ripped apart. Or perhaps the actually-not-contrived use of strummed harmonics in fourth track “Everyday is Christmas” that sound like the welcoming mat for the coming crescendo. This crescendo resolves into a 3/8 time with wonderful arpeggio sounding finger-picking that gives a refreshing sense of depth after the claustrophobic build. All their songs carry this aggressive form. They write so many melodies and transitions, they have to mash them all into a finite number of songs and consequently there is a feeling of restlessness and verbosity in their sound.
The lyricism and vocal delivery has their own complexity, naturally. Images of Isaac Brock, Rivers Cuomo, and Jeff Mangum come to mind in regards to both the vocal inflections and melodic phrasing. The album is full of recurring themes that seem to represent their effervescent persona. The tragedy of the American cowboy; self-mutilation, courage, and triumph over precarious situations. The vocals are easy to rally around: singable, encouraging, but with the perfect touch of realistic pessimism at just the right time. Written by guys that must have been there and done that, in a sense. Perhaps it comes off this way because of their extremely focused songwriting form, but it seems hard to believe that musicians with such ambitious and thoughtful structuring to their songs would write anything other than lyrics that carry a deep meaning to them on a personal level.
If the album needs help, it’s in the low end. This seems natural given the lack of any instrument to lay down bass lines. However, there are moments where the leveling on the percussion could stand to be reworked to increase the bass drum and some of the guitar’s root notes could be brought to the forefront in the engineering to create a bit more of a live feel to the production. Indeed, the songs have plenty of force entirely in the treble range and generally they carry enough weight without a low end. But it does lead one to consider what the band would sound like with a bit more chest thumping richness. They’d need to be damn discerning as to who would fill the position of a third band member. Finding someone to keep up with their excellent chemistry as a duo without changing the excellent spontaneous feel would be essential. It definitely wouldn’t be easy but, until that day comes where someone just fits in, they seem to manage just fine as a duo.
This is exciting music. It’s energetic without being cheesy. The dynamic interplay of the two instruments is dense and ever-listenable. Even each instrument alone would be engaging to listen to in isolation. Fat History Month seem to exude rock sensibilities that manifest with multiple different styles. Their transitions are tactful, and riveting as hell. This is a strong combination and gives the music a sense of freshness despite very familiar elements that most listeners might have thought were lost when the indie scene transitioned away from overdriven rock into more electronic and subtle folk-infused tastes. With Bad History Month, Fat History Month proves they have the chance to continue down their current path and solidify their role as innovative artists creating music that pulls from the past but has inimitable contemporary virtuosic appeal.
Back in 2011, I was enamoured by Fucking Despair, a small release by Boston’s Fat History Month, specifically the title track (it made our best songs for the year). This song still slays me. It is acoustic desperation excellence bar none, the kind that sweeps you away. There is a slight Australian connection with these guys also, seeing as their Safe & Sound 7” came out on Brisbane’s Bedroom Suck Records the same year (you can still buy it here). The band have a LP out, Bad History Month (on Exploding In Sound/Sophomore Lounge), and it continues the duo’s scattershot imagery interspersed with whimsical angst, shambolic regrets and enough rustic bombast and flippant half-jokes to fill a fleet of freak-folk flotillas, only to sink them all as they come within eyesight of the shore. Psychedelic breakdowns for the straight-edged, or pop for the deranged – either way, Fat History Month are possibly one of the most underrated acts that I have come across since I started Sonic Masala. Their songs are the kinds that you come back to time and again – and in an age of disposable art, this is mighty high praise. Like their good labelmates Pile and their album from last year Dripping, they don’t make such rambling, discordant indie rock like this anymore – maybe they never did. A very good album that deserves much higher kudos than it’s ever going to receive.
Yesterday, I wrote a piece for Stereogum discussing some of the difficulties associated with running an underground music space in Boston. Sometimes keeping house show culture vibrant in this city seems like more trouble than it’s worth, but then you hear something like the new record by Fat History Month – probably the most championed band of the Boston basement-show circuit in recent years – and it’s enough to squash your cynicism for a while.
While the backstory of Fat History Month — a guitar and drum duo who seem to take inspiration from Slanted & Enchanted-era Pavement, Modest Mouse, and other similarly self-deprecating indie-rock bands — is one of off-the-grid smoke-filled basements around Massachusetts, none of that history is even really necessary to appreciate the series of painfully overlooked experimental rock records and tapes they’ve released since 2009. Fat History Month’s 2011 debut full-length Fucking Despair (comprised of “redemption songs of freedom” with names like “Free As a Cat”) was marked by the singer’s perpetual deadpan, and distorted guitar lines that shift between the tight/angular and the droney/cyclical. Now, that’s followed up by songs in a similar vein on a second full length, Bad History Month, out on April Fool’s Day via Sophomore Lounge and Exploding In Sound Records.
Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie:
I invariably make the mistake of buying too many albums from different artists at one time. This often leads to slanting towards the album that catches my ear the fastest. Last November, I happened upon Pile’s newest album, Dripping at the same time that I bought Fat History Month’s 2011 album, Fucking Despair. While FHM’s album was cool, I was riding the tide of Pile’s wave of noise rock, especially after getting into their prior album, Magic Isn’t Real earlier that month. Then, Guided by Voices released The Bears for Lunch and, before I knew it, my ever-growing iTunes collection buried FHM.
As luck would have it for me, the duo from Boston released a new album in April 2013 and I remembered their name. I heard the title track from Bad History Month on a music blog and it jogged my memory. I remembered that these guys had a cool sound that I meant to indulge, but just forgot.
Good thing I came to my senses. FHM has a lot to offer listeners who have some patience and a taste for the loud-quiet-loud rapport of The Pixies, and the jangle of Pavement and Modest Mouse (before MM were neutered by quasi-fame). The band also has a lot in common with their label mates, Pile. Aside from their Boston roots, both bands excel at taking listener on a musically askew journey with each track.
FHM features similar churning guitars and strumming rhythms, and angular hooks drowned in some appealing distortion and fuzz. The drums splash through the songs and each track sounds like it is a mere second away from spinning out of control. These guys are true artists and work hard to make their songs sound chaotic. Case-in-point, the opening track, “(bad history),” barely gets started before the band has to stop and restart. Intentional? Who knows, and who cares? I would not have it any other way.
Things really get going early. The title track is bouncy and peppered with sullen, downtrodden moments. “Everyday Is Christmas” sputters along at the beginning, but takes a dramatic turn and has a rift that Slint would envy.
“Bald History Month” is a wonderful rocker that boasts many shifts in dynamics and has such a large sound that it is hard to believe just two people created this joyful noise.
The last quarter of the album takes a melancholic turn with the track “(bad future)”, but shifts into a rather hopeful yet ominous vibe with the epic behemoth “There Goes the Sun” and the final crescendo of “I Ate Myself And I Want To Die”.
Glad I remembered this band, as the reward was worth the wait. Now I wonder what other musical treasures lay buried in my iTunes.
SORRY FOR THE LACK OF UPDATES. BEEN ON TOUR FOR THE PAST MONTH WITHOUT A FANCY PHONE OR A CAFE TOLERANCE. WHAT A LONG, WEIRD ONE IT WAS. LOTS TO POST IN DAYS TO COME!
FHM “BALD HISTORY MONTH” IS TRACK OF THE WEEK ON GIMME TINNITUS.
Fat History Month – Bald History Month [GT Track of the Week]
THOUGHTS ON ANIMAL CITY’S “FUNNY PAGES” LP BY JUSTIN SPICER VIA KEXP BLOG.
As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound from luminaries such as Animal City.
Animal City wastes no time, though the pop remembrances of “Waste No Time” almost made me kick the needle off the turntable. But the A.M. warp of “Learn to Survive” ensured See You in the Funny Pages stayed firmly spinning.
This is an album of rock flashbacks that strangely has little resemblance to the bygone era of overcrowded classic radio. It feels straight out of 1978, sometimes from 1992, but always 2013. It’s playful and experimental in how it re-frames the idea of radio-friendly rock. It makes no bones about putting catchy ahead of innovation—I’m reminded of what Dr. Dog could have been had the grind of the road not assuaged the band into the safety of classic riffs. Animal City pick up that fading torch and take it back into the stoned ages, unafraid of the fumes and bellbottoms.
Unsurprisingly, this comes from the hearts and minds of Sophomore Lounge, the little Louisville label that could. Animal City and Sophomore Lounge are a prime example of the Midwest music timbre: the terribleness of throwbacks but unabashed, unapologetic musicians infatuated with the songs of their youth (and their parent’s discarded youth) that are finishing the business that was interrupted by politicking and pop’s ugly siblings (bubblegum, disco, et. al.).
See You in the Funny Pages will be compared unfairly to its touchstones (Gary Wilson, Pavement, Jonathan Richman) but if not for the wholesale embracing of lunacy and irreverence, Animal City would be banal. Funny Pages is anything but, and though it has its share of stumbles, they are easily forgivable with every listen because of how genuine the band and the album ring.
LIFE PARTNER “DEAD WRESTLERS” REVIEW ON CASSETTE GODS BLOG.
heres a great tape from a great label that keeps em’ coming. sophomore lounge is run mainly by some great people in louisville KY and they’ve released some absolutely killer rock and roll LPs and tapes in the past few years (fat history month, skimask, fielded, christmas bride, giving up, meah, state champion, wishgift, and many many more). i got this tape from ryan davis (SL label head) the other day and have been cranking it nonstop.
in the flesh LIFE PARTNER is aaron ozzy – he writes all the music and plays almost all of the instruments on the recordings – and he does a stellar job. DEAD WRESTLERS is 10 relentless tracks of sassy, catchy, sludgy, garage punk beauty. LIFE CHAMPION is a dark nostalgic epic and my favorite track on the cassette (i was a life champion/i was a beast but now i am all alone/i was a life champion/but i’m in giving up/this world doesn’t need me around that much anymore). aaron ozzy has seemingly mastered the pop song formula and did i mention that the overall sound of the tape totally rules and so does the artwork?!?
great release if ya like rock, roll, and everything in between.
Permanent Recs – Last Year’s Men are teasing us with a brand new single, “Clawless Paw”, before their next record drops and man oh man is this 7 inch one tasty garage pop platter.
If you wanna hot tip, forget the SXSW buzz overkill currently swamping the internet and listen to North Carolina’s Last Year’s Men now, cuz they’re one of the most promising up-and-coming garage bands around. Falling somewhere between fellow Caroliners Paint Fumes and Spider Bags, Last Year’s Men play a full on intoxicated and intoxicating wall-of-sound garage rock that has us transfixed as the first time we heard the Reigning Sound or the Drags. A little touch of the flower punk of the Black Lips, a lot of the fiery revolt of the Nashville garage scene (Ranch Ghost, Jeff The Brotherhood, Useless Eaters, etc) and much love for the back catalogs of Crypt and Sympathy For The Music Industry all concentrated into two powerful tracks that do exactly what they’re meant to do – 1. Make you want the next full length by Last Year’s Men immediately and 2. Start up a party wherever you play this 7 inch. Recommended for those into Ty Segall, G Green, White Fence and all those aforementioned bands. Now is the time to introduce yerself to Last Year’s Men because 300 is a small quantity for a single as RECOMMENDED as this.
Styrofoam Drone - This 7″ will eventually lead to their second full-length LP later this year which will be produced by Greg Cartwright (Reigning Sound/Oblivians), but we’ll have more details on that as the release date nears. For now “Clawless Paw” and “What Can I Get” will hopefully be enough to hold us over, but at this rate we’re already looking to hear more of this rugged rock sooner than later. With the snarling intensity that opens up a track like “Clawless Paw”, there’s bound to be more ass-kickers like these in the near future. The crunchy guitar assault comes on like a wall of heat, paving the way for twangy, strung-out verses, mangled guitar fuzz and Ben Carr’s raspy croon, but you’d probably never guess any of that given the tracks lazy, discordant intro. B-side “What I Can Get” brings in a cleaner sound with a more pop-centered approach, completely changing momentum in the final minute for an unexpectedly destructive finish to blow the song open at the seams.
Original review here: http://styrofoamdrone.com/2013/03/14/last-years-men-clawless-paw-7/
SC/AC SPRING 2013 TOUR DATES. KEEP YOUR DIAL TUNED HERE FOR UPDATES.
THUR (4/4) MIKE N MOLLY’S, CHAMPAIGN, IL (105 N. MARKET ST.) W/ VICTOR VILLARREAL (OF CAP’N JAZZ/JOAN OF ARC) + SINGLE PLAYER ***
FRI (4/5) GAHYE HOUSE, CHICAGO, IL (2218 N. MILWAUKEE AVE.) W/ LITTLE GOLD + TODD KILLINGS (AFTER-PARTY AT SAL’S HOUSE)
SAT (4/6) WOODY’S LOUNGE, LAKE FOREST, IL (555 N. SHERIDAN RD.) W/ JOAN OF ARC + CAVE + HEAVY TIMES + MORE
SUN (4/7) TBA, INDIANAPOLIS, IN
MON (4/8) GAY DUDES ANNEX, BLOOMINGTON, IN (1022 W. KIRKWOOD AVE.) W/ THEE OPEN SEX + BASTARD CLUB
TUES (4/9) AL’S SIDECAR, LEXINGTON, KY (607 N. LIMESTONE ST.)
WED (4/10) ZANZABAR, LOUISVILLE, KY (2100 S. PRESTON ST.) W/ NATURAL CHILD
THUR (4/11) FIREHOUSE PUB, NORMAL, IL (107 E. BEAUFORT ST.) W/ THESE OLD GHOSTS
FRI (4/12) MUSHMAUS, ST. LOUIS, MO (2700 CHEROKEE ST.) W/ FALSETTO BOY + CUP COLLECTOR
SAT (4/13) SKIHOUSE, CARBONDALE, IL (E-MAIL FOR ADDRESS) W/ THE HEAT TAPE
SUN (4/14) TBA, MEMPHIS, TN
MON (4/15) WHITE WATER TAVERN, LITTLE ROCK, AR (2500 W. 7TH ST.)
TUES (4/16) STONE FOX, NASHVILLE, TN (712 51ST AVE. N)
WED (4/17) TBA, SAVANNAH, GA
THUR (4/18) FARM 255, ATHENS, GA (255 W. WASHINGTON ST.) W/ LITTLE GOLD + TODD KILLINGS
FRI (4/19) 529, ATLANTA, GA (529 FLAT SHOALS AVE. SE) W/ TURF WAR + WALK FROM THE GALLOWS + BRUNCH
SAT (4/20) CHATEAU MOBY DICK, DURHAM, NC (118 NEWELL ST.) W/ SPIDER BAGS + LAST YEAR’S MEN
SUN (4/21) BACKSTREET PUB, BEAUFORT, NC (124 MIDDLE LN.)
MON (4/22) STRANGE MATTER, RICHMOND, VA (929 W. GRACE ST.) W/ ROSEANNE + SPACEMONSTER
TUES (4/23) KUNG FU NECKTIE, PHILADELPHIA, PA (1250 N. FRONT ST.)
WED (4/24) TBA, BROOKLYN, NY
THUR (4/25) RADIO DOWN, BOSTON/SOMERVILLE, MA (381 SOMERVILLE AVE.) W/ KAL MARKS
FRI (4/26) TBA, YORK, ME
SAT (4/27) HARLOW’S PUB, PETERBOROUGH, NH (3 SCHOOL ST.)
SUN (4/28) TBA, BURLINGTON, VT W/ HELLO SHARK
MON (4/29) TBA, BUFFALO, NY
TUES (4/30) MAHALL’S 20 LANES, CLEVELAND/LAKEWOOD, OH (13200 MADISON AVE.) W/ FILMSTRIP + MAP THE OCEAN
SATURDAY (5/4) DERBY DAY HOUSE PARTY, LOUISVILLE, KY (E-MAIL FOR ADDRESS) W/ LUSHES + MEAH! ***
SHOWS MARKED *** ARE ONLY STATE CHAMPION. ALL OTHER DATES ARE W/ ANIMAL CITY.
MORE INFO TBA.
LANTERN INTREVIEW IN ATHENS, GA’S FLAGPOLE MAGAZINE.
Give a listen to Lantern’s latest release, Dream Mine, and you might wonder what planet the band is from. From the ambient-dance sounds of “Untitled” to “Out of Our Heads,” which drips of garage rock goo, it’s clear that the band’s musical palate runs the gamut. Flagpole recently caught up with Lantern guitarist Zachary Fairbrother to discuss the relationship between gritty cities and rock and roll, the risks of defining punk, and what it’s like to be a lo-fi rocker with a background in music composition.
Flagpole: You mention on your Bandcamp page that Dream Mine is a “loose concept album” that is a “a tribute to ’80s dystopic cyber punk.” Can you say something of the concepts running throughout the album?
Zachary Fairbrother: I wouldn’t say there is an obvious narrative throughout the EP, because there isn’t. The concept more came about while I was putting the tracks together for the release. When we were finished assembling it we were like, “Wow, this really sounds scary.” It comes off very cold and bleak. The idea of it being a tribute to ’80s dystopic-cyber punk came from the track, “Untitled,” which I composed as a project separate from Lantern all together. It was the theme for an imaginary cyber punk movie. I really love the look of those movies, the gritty noir, the ’80s technology. The ’80s definitely seemed to have a fear of technology unlike today. We, however, might want to ask ourselves some of these questions again, but that’s another discussion.
Also, there are lots of industrial themes running through the EP as well, such as “Fool’s Gold,” “Train Song,” “You Can’t Deny Me (Revisited).” I sort imagined it as a future primitive. To compare it to a movie, it might be like Escape from New York or The Warriors. We are playing rock and roll—it’s an old genre, but we want to present it in a new a fresh way, or it might be thought of how punks in the future [will] try to play punk from the past.
FP: Although you’re originally from Canada, you’re now based out of Philadelphia. Despite being the City of Brotherly Love, your new home has a reputation of being a pretty rough place. How does the environment of Philly influence your music?
ZF: That’s hard to gauge. I can’t say that it really [affects] us directly. There is no empirical evidence to support that. Although, you can listen to Dream Mine and be like, “Wow, this a bleak, dark record” and think it might have been influenced by a rough place. We used to jam in a freezing jam space in a somewhat creepy part of town. This was where we recorded Dream Mine, so I am reminded of that when I listen to it and other recordings made there.
Philly isn’t the Wild West though—at least not where we are. We live in a pretty nice neighborhood. Philadelphia is home to Kurt Vile and Purling Hiss. Is there something of a lo-fi rock movement going on in that city that the rest of the world is just now learning about? Maybe? We are friends with both Kurt and Purling Hiss but we are relatively new on the scene here. We were making lo-fi jams well before coming to Philly, mostly in our previous group Omon Ra Il and my first band, a more folky project, Omon Ra.
A lot great, higher-profile, local bands are releasing records this year including Kurt Vile and Purling Hiss, as well as Pissed Jeans, Daughn Gibson, Far Out Fangtooth, Spacin’, The War on Drugs, Creepoid, Birds of Maya, Mary Latimore—and those are just the ones I know. So, hopefully it’ll bring some more attention to the scene here. There’s also been a lot more venues opening which is great. Some cool labels as well: Siltbreeze, Richie Records, Evil Weevil, White Denim and Backslider. It seems like things are growing.
FP: Speaking of gritty cities and sounds, you cover “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by the Stooges, who are from Detroit. How did this song fit with the concepts and thematics on the rest of the album and why did you decide to stretch it out to an almost eight-minute rendition of the song?
ZF: I always thought that song was very anti-climatic. There is a tension throughout [the song] that is never resolved. I thought it would be cool to play with that idea and stretch it out. It’s a great riff on top of that, and as we played it we just zoned out in the moment.
FP: In listening to some of the new EP, a lot of the ambient songs (“Fool’s Gold” and “Untitled,” for instance) sound almost dance, or perhaps anti-punk. There’s a lot of rattle and noise, but not in the way we think of punk rock. What does that genre mean to you?
ZF: Defining punk rock has a lot of baggage. People get really emotional about it, so I’d rather not go there. If I was to give ourselves a genre, I prefer to call what we do rock and roll. The term seems more archaic and thus more ambigious and mythological. To me rock and roll is larger than punk.
FP: I read that you have a degree in music composition. Is it anxiety-inducing or liberating to know that you’ve chosen to make music that most people in the academic circles of music composition would scoff at?
ZF: They would scoff at what I do? Maybe some, but I keep in touch with a lot of my classmates and professors and most of them have been nothing but supportive. I came from a small program, though, and was a guitar player, so expectations were different. Everybody that played guitar played in metal, rock, indie bands, whatever, before signing up for classical lessons. Also, lots of people that studied classical end up getting gigs in rock or indie groups. My composition teacher loves all sorts of music, and a lot of the musicology profs specialized in popular music. I don’t think the worlds are so separate. Plus, I wouldn’t care if they did, I’ve always done what I’ve wanted musically. The pieces I made at school were probably more controversial than anything I did outside of it.
FP: You’re playing quite a few dates in the South. Tell us a little about your live set-up and what audiences should expect at a typical Lantern show.
ZF: Our sound has constantly evolved since the first release. From Deliver Me From Nowhere through Dream Mine, I took care of all the writing, minus a piece or two. Now Lantern is a total collaboration, where me and Emily [Robb] share the writing duties and we switch off on guitar, bass and vocals. We just released a new song called “Mr. Mars” that was written by Emily and features her on guitar. We will also be playing material that is from our upcoming record, Rock ‘N’ Roll Rorschach, being released on the Kentucky Label Sophomore Lounge. The experience isn’t as grim as Dream Mine. Ideally, people will want to dance.
Original interview: http://www.flagpole.com/blogs/homedrone/posts/q-a-with-lantern-playing-farm-255-tonight
AWESOME GARY STEWART PIECE RECENTLY POSTED ON DANGEROUS MINDS!
Country music’s dark angel: The ragged glory of Gary Stewart
Gary Stewart had a voice that could make angels weep. It was filled with loneliness, heartbreak and obsession. His trembling vibrato and world-weary raggedness spoke of the darker secrets that lurked inside the man’s heart. Gary was spooked by a lot in life and tried to deal with it in the ways that many of us do: drugs and alcohol. When his wife of 43 years, Mary Lou, died of pneumonia in 2003, Stewart’s shaky connection with mortality unraveled entirely and he ended it all with a gunshot to the head. In the 59 years he lived, Stewart left a legacy of some of the finest, purest and realest country songs ever written. Heartfelt, but free of cornball sentiment, his sad tunes are the very definition of “tears in your beer” country. And the cat could rock. His upbeat numbers are stripped-down, no frills, dance floor fillers that honky tonk with the best of Buck Owens, Joe Ely, Steve Earle and The Flying Burrito Brothers.
I discovered Gary Stewart right around the time punk was starting to break. His 1975 album Out Of Hand appealed to me in the same ways that The Clash and The Ramones eventually did. Stewart made songs that were free of artifice and posturing. His writing was to the point and primal. There was no gloss. His distaste for the slickness of Nashville and the Hee Haw attitude of a lot of country stars made him an outsider in the staid and predictable country music industry and therefore considered “difficult.”
Stewart didn’t like being confined to a particular kind of music. He may have played country and western music but he had a rocker’s sensibility and wasn’t afraid to create music that at times was so emotionally stark and intense that the major labels didn’t know what to do with it. Fortunately, RCA records managed to release a bunch of Stewart’s albums without fucking with him too much. They are among the greatest records, of any genre, to be put to vinyl. The first thing I did when my band was signed to RCA was to demand free copies of all of Stewart’s RCA recordings. They were the best thing I ever got from the label.
If any musician deserves a biography and documentary, it’s Gary Stewart. The closest thing we’ve got is a short, but insightful, bio on Stewart called “Little Junior, King Of The Honky Tonks: The life and death of Gary Stewart” written by Jimmy McDonough, who also wrote the very fine Neil Young biography Shakey.
There’s very little video of Stewart on YouTube that gives you a real sense of the artist. Most of the stuff is either poorly shot amateur footage or prettified crap from various mainstream country network shows. Stewart shined in dives. Here’s a couple of clips that I feel capture some of the soulfulness of the man.
This first video is from the early ‘80s and features Stewart in a TV studio in Hazard, Kentucky singing “Silver Cloud,” a song he wrote in a graveyard in Dallas (McDonough says Atlanta).
(see original article for videos)
The second video is from some TV show broadcast in the late ‘70s. Gary’s voice is tentative at first but grows stronger as the song progresses. It’s hard to tell if he’s uncomfortable in a TV studio or just in the grip of the deep lament that is “In Some Room Above The Street,” a song that compresses what seems a lifetime of longing into a few heartbreaking verses. This feels like country noir, something Jim Thompson might have written if he’d had a heart.
If you’re interested in exploring more of Stewart’s musical legacy here’s a good place to start.
Read the article as intended on Dangerous Minds’ website: here