If re-imagining pre-Beatles rock’n’roll with 21st-century lyrical content is a something of a gimmick, it should be noted that rock’n’roll history is chock full of gimmicks, some of which end up succeeding rather nicely, thank you.
Speaking of old-school, take a listen to this one, which goes all Buddy Holly on us before we can figure out what year we’re actually in. And yes, re-imagining pre-Beatles rock’n’roll with 21st-century lyrical content is a something of a gimmick, but it should be noted that rock’n’roll history is chock full of gimmicks, some of which end up succeeding rather nicely, thank you. In the end, it comes down to two things: 1) is the song there?; and 2) is the song there?
I think the song is here. Nothing happening on “Cam Girl” is rocket science, given how gleefully the song borrows from its antecedents (note the Roy Orbison bass line, as one clear example, the Presley lyrical reference as another), but the whole somehow rises resiliently above the sum of its parts. For as it turns out, the conceit is a powerful one; just hearing these words set to this music is a game-changer:
Tell me, girl, your name
Tell me you’re eighteen
Your profile came up on my MacBook screen
There is weight in this unexpected synthesis, particularly as Jeremy Fury and bandmates have not only ingested the sound and feel of late ’50s/early ’60s rock’n’roll but bring it back to us on real instruments (a theme this week, it seems), via analog recording. (If you don’t think this makes a difference you may not be listening that closely.) I find what this band is up to particularly compelling at a cultural moment when futurists are holding sway with the most small-minded of visions, by all appearances believing that present-day technology gives us license to trample on centuries of established human values and needs. The rather homely act of merging old-time rock with Net-gen subject matter strikes me as a subtle yet profound way of affirming the interconnection of generations. As Fury himself has written, in apparent response to reactions to his band’s music: “Stealing? No. Preserving the past for the sake of the future? Yes.” There: that’s exactly what seems to be missing from our collective, heedless hurling forward into the technological future: the idea that the past must itself be a part of the future too, that the future in fact is impoverished without it.
“Cam Girl” is a song from the first Jeremy and the Harlequins release, a self-titled EP that came out last month.
There is something deep and mysterious at work here in this simple-sounding mid-tempo rocker, and the depth and mystery is rooted in the by now strange and wonderful fact that the song was recorded live, on analog equipment, in one take.
There is something deep and mysterious at work here in this simple-sounding mid-tempo rocker, and the depth and mystery is rooted in the by now strange and wonderful fact that “When the Rain Comes” was recorded live, on analog equipment, in one take. There is nothing whatever wrong with all the technology being employed in the 21st century to make music but someone has to make it clear that what can be done with our digital tools are many different and potentially enjoyable things but one thing they cannot do, can never do, is what Katie Von Schleicher and friends do here. She and her band of living, breathing, flesh and blood human beings are singing and playing in a room together. Nothing replaces the fire of that. Even when a song unfolds in a kind of a lazy way, even when a song’s coolest hook are a bunch of “la-la-la”s, there is fire here, a fire lit by the inexplicable things that happen when human bodies and souls and voices share time and space together, and when the tools are in the service of capturing the shared effort, not manipulating it.
“When the Rain Comes” is the lead track from Silent Days, a seven-song mini-album recorded at the Soul Shop, an all-analog studio in Medford, Mass. built in 2007 into a 160-year-old barn that had previously housed a piano restoration shop. According to the studio’s web site, “We strive for a clean, open, live sound that truly captures the experience of musicians moving air within a room.” Exactly so. Listen to the vocals—both Von Schleicher’s offhanded lead and the unexpected grandeur of the harmonies in the long-delayed chorus (3:12)—and feel the concrete sense of depth and breadth (and breath) that saturates the recording. And then, best of all, the guitars: both Will Graefe and Gabriel Birnbaum, members of the band Wilder Maker along with Von Schleicher herself, are listed as guitarists here so I don’t know who’s who but I love the kind of guitar sound you hear squirting briefly to the forefront at, say, 0:49 or 0:58—a sound both muted and ringing, a melodious sound that carries within it the flavor of dissonance. A deft, off-kilter solo emerges at 1:50 (Graefe in this case), with the air of notes being decided upon moment to moment, which may almost be true—in addition to the songs being recorded live and in one take, the entire album was recorded in just a few days, without any demos, any pre-written arrangements, any rehearsals. This is hardly a formula that guarantees success but in this case, the gods were smiling. Fine stuff.
Von Schleicher is a singer/songwriter based both in Boston and Brooklyn. Before Wilder Maker she was in the band Sleepy Very Sleepy. I thank her directly for the MP3. You can hear the whole album as well as purchase it via Bandcamp.
photo credit: Dianne Lowry de Ortega
Recorded in an all-analog studio, “Bad For Me” oozes heart, craft, and ’70s goodness.
And speaking of the 1970s, and Mott the Hoople, check this one out. Not really Mott this time, but Bowie-esque, certainly (he wrote “All The Young Dudes,” as some but not all may know). And that’s just the tip of the ’70s iceberg here, as attentive ears are likely to hear a splash of Rundgren, a sprinkle of ELO, and maybe even a touch of Nilsson or Eric Carmen in this one.
And Benson is not just talking the talk here. He went and made his new album, What Kind of World, at Nashville’s all-analog “Welcome to 1979” studio (“Fingers on strings, Hands on faders, Music on tape,” as they like to say). Recording in such an environment will affect not only how the music sounds but also what music one chooses to record in the first place. Sonically, structurally, and attitudinally, “Bad For Me” has little to do with standard ’10s blog-fare; equal parts heart and craft, it takes us on a four-minute adventure that ranges from intimate confessional to operatic melodrama and back again. The song even comes to a complete stop at one point (3:09). I don’t tend to get too caught up in sound-quality considerations but I adore the palpable, spacious warmth here, and how it plays out differently in the quieter versus the more expansive moments. Even something as simple as the bass player entering (0:42) seems to happen with rich, ear-opening lucidity.
Brendan Benson is an American singer/songwriter who at this point is most well-known for his association with Jack White and his membership in The Raconteurs. He does have four previous solo albums to his name. What Kind of World will be released in April on Benson’s new Readymade Records label. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead. MP3 via Better Propaganda.