Although still lo-fi, the mix is a bit cleaner, the melodies super-agreeable; this is the sound of a band inviting you very happily down its rabbit hole rather than seeming indifferent to whether you’ve dropped in or not.
They are probably tired of Guided By Voices comparisons, but what the heck: here is a scruffy indie-rock band from Dayton who specialize in inscrutable yet melodic lo-fi compositions, many not even two minutes long (sample song titles here: “Antenna Chariot Quarterfinals,” “Fuel for the Maypole Osmosis”). Oh and the drummer used to be in Guided By Voices. So, you can’t blame me for using GBV as at least a point of reference.
That said, if Smug Brothers are inspired by Guided By Voices, they also seem somewhat more interested in recording songs you don’t have to try quite so hard to like (or feel like a failure if you don’t). Although still lo-fi, the mix is a bit cleaner, the melodies super-agreeable; this is the sound of a band inviting you very happily down its rabbit hole rather than seeming indifferent to whether you’ve dropped in or not. Charming from beginning to end, “Every One is Really Five” launches off rock’n’roll’s primal backbeat, yet puts us from the start in the middle of a mundane but intriguing scenario: “I recall/You were heading the other way/I recall/I was just starting my day.” You might wonder just what is going on here, and you probably won’t really find out—by the time the chorus gives us the titular assertion that “every one is really five,” I’m not sure that will make any more or less sense than the rest of it. But the completed couplet—“We’re all just lucky to be alive”—is sung with such poignant good humor that you can let the whole thing make sense in that way that has nothing to do with how unintelligible the words mostly are. This is one of music’s super powers and these guys have it going. The song chugs along with a general sense of band noise in the background until around 1:30, when a couple of nonchalant guitars decide to speak up, just a bit—clanging out some measured melody lines before fading back into the good-natured swirl of sound.
Smug Brothers have existed in one form or another since 2004, at that point consisting of Kyle Melton and Daryl Robbins. Drummer Don Thrasher (great name for a drummer!) came on board in 2008. The lineup went through a major turnover in the 2017-2018 time frame; Melton and Thrasher remain, the others are new to the party. Because these guys love their sub-2:00 songs, their discography presents a challenge in determining what’s an album versus what’s an EP; they can put 11 songs on a 20-minute record. In any case, they’ve released 15 different stand-alone recordings, six or seven of which seem to be full-length endeavors, including their most recent, Serve a Thirsty Moon, which was released earlier this month via Gas Daddy Go Records. You can check it, and the entire Smug Brothers catalog, out via Bandcamp. “Every One is Really Five” is the 21st track on the 21-track album.
The sound is rough and dirty, with that air of tumbled-together crunchiness and ramshackle singing that we often get in this particular sonic arena.
One of the coolest things the original “alternative rock” movement of the middle ’80s did was link the DIY ethics and lo-fi sound of garage rock with hi-fi artistic pretensions introduced to rock’n’roll by the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and (let’s not leave them out, as too many do) the Kinks. It’s a tricky balancing act—music of this nature can become too precious and/or too muddy for its own good—but an engaging enough aspiration to remain alive lo these 30 years later. At its best, this lineage has given birth to bands with an impressive, maybe even unprecedented breadth to their sound (think Yo La Tengo, perhaps the proto-band of whatever you actually want to call this stuff), because the foundational idea was never about one particular kind of song in the first place, and the attachment to sonic basics never actually required shoddy recording standards.
Enter “Franki Jo,” from the trio Mincer Ray, whose very name clues us in to the band’s ancestry (“Mincer Ray” is a song from Guided By Voices’ alt-rock classic Bee Thousand). The sound is rough and dirty, with that air of tumbled-together crunchiness and ramshackle singing that we often get in this particular sonic arena. But the song is hardly as slapdash as the vibe suggests. This is in truth a well-crafted song, with touches that are engaging and, often, slyly humorous—from the the heard-only-once pre-chorus (0:45) to the shifting verse melody (i.e., the second verse is not precisely the same as the first) to the extended “oo”-ing in the background in the second verse to the satisfying, two-part coda (2:48, 3:11). The song’s underlying riff (what we hear first at 0:04) is at once primal and slightly complicated, with its rushed, four-note descent, climaxing off the main beat; and after it asserts itself, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, if only because there is so much more going on from start to finish. (Think how different those old garage-rock songs were, which were often all riff, and little song.) Don’t miss as well the appearance of some spiffy chords and unexpected chord changes along the way.
Mincer Ray is a Berlin-based band of expats, comprised of Americans Graham McCarthy and Sean Anderson and Brazilian Acácio Do Conto, known as Cate (pronounced Ka-Chee). Ray Mincer, the debut full-length, came out last year. “Franki Jo” is the lead track on the EP A Magnate’s Reach, officially coming out at the end of May. You can listen and purchase via Bandcamp. Note also that if you download the song via SoundCloud, you can have the song as a .wav file, if you like higher-quality downloads.