Alt Rock

Bummer Camp learn(s) to "Laugh All Day"

A lot of times when I'm writing these reviews or rants or whatever they are exactly it's sometimes difficult to decide if a band’s name should be followed by a singular or a plural verb. Like most people would say “The Doors were on tour in Miami when Jim Morrison was arrested for indecent exposure” because to say “The Doors was on tour when Jimbo etc etc penis etc etc” just sounds weird. But to say “Duran Duran is a band known for their sometimes risqué music videos” versus "are a band known for..." isn’t so weird at all even though there’s at least two “Durans” in the group. It’s all darn confusing sometimes.

What’s also darn confusing sometimes, and just about as common these days, is the question of whether a “band” who’s really just a single dude or dudette or charcoal briquette (whatever!) should be treated as a singular entity or a collective identity. And to complicate/simplify matters further it’s not unusual for individuals to refer to themselves as “they” these days. So hey, why not use the plural form of verbs for these individuals-cum-bands like for instance: “St. Vincent are known for being romantically linked to Kristen Stewart” which isn't bad actually because this makes it so much easier to have sex with entire bands at once and to describe such encounters in grammatically precise terms. 

Anyway what I’m really driving at here is that Bummer Camp is/are one of those “one-man bands” that gives verb-tense fixated music blog editors headaches (and don't even get me started on one-woman bands!) but for the rest of humanity Bummer Camp is/are simply purveyors of good head music, that is, if you’re chill enough for it because Mr. Bummer has a way with entrancing songs built around looping repetitions and layer-by-layer wall-of-sound constructions like a DIY musical paper mâché project made up of Rick Rubinesque Def Jam-era drum loops, bedrock bass riffs, and circling, swirling layers of guitar (plus the occasional synth natch) pasting scraps of melody-upon-melody and texture-upon-texture but while never losing the minimalist feel of each basic building block either. And by any given song's end you may feel like you huffed a little too much Elmer's glue

Bummer Camp's latest single “Laugh All Day”—his/their third single in the preceding five months—provides a good case-in-point for the points above. The song also fits his/their social-media self description to a tee, i.e., “gothy folk pop from Queens” and lyrically it's either “about my life, my friends, my family, my job, [or] my car and the inadequacy it feels because it only has one headlight" because that's what Bummer Camp songs are about.

"Laugh All Day" opens with a chugging chord progression that would do Paul Westerberg proud with its restrained “aging punk rocker aging gracefully” raggedy folksy vibe but accompanied by a primitive drum machine and catchy as hell to boot. Then about half a minute in there’s a lead part that enters with this distinctive mid-tempo-contemplative-melodic-goth feel to it where you just know that if Molly Ringwald were in detention she'd go up onto the library's stairwell landing and do her preppie anarchy dance, a mood that's intensified further by the swampy echo on the vocals sung with a Richard Butler-esque sunglasses-at-night insouciance. Ergo, gothy folk pop from Queens. 

“Laugh All Day” bops along contentedly but it also keeps slipping in these subtly spectral moments too—like how the guitar line mimics the vocal melody at first but then starts to detach until it spins off into its own curlicue melodic figures finally reaching escape velocity about halfway through the song, and then dissolving into a shimmering halo of sound, and then a plucky palm-muted surf’s up section, and then a rhythmic drop and a cascading guitar line soaring over the top, and then a wordless vocal croon soaring over the top of the soaring guitar line, with the end effect something like a chorus of cicadas on a still summer night. 

So with these recent single releases who knows if Bummer Camp is building up to full EP or an LP or a fold-out-gatefold-triple-album concept record that'll come with a full set of van decal stickers illustrated by Roger Dean. But wherever it all ends up I'd say it’s a safe to say this one-man band will keep us oscillating wildly (or oscillating mellowly) until we reach the end of the ride. (Jason Lee)

   

Alt Rock

Time: 
21:00
Band name: 
The Backfires
FULL Artist Facebook address (http://...): 
https://www.facebook.com/thebackfires
Venue name: 
Mercury Lounge
   

Ignescent "Remnant"

Ignescent has released the first single, "Remnant", from their forthcoming EP "Ascension".

This Rock group founded and fronted by the talented Jennifer Benson who is joined by Joshua Garcia (guitar), Ian Sabastian (bass), and Tyree Newell (drums).

   

2021 In Review: Spud Cannon showed us how Good Kids Make Bad Apples

At first glance Spud Cannon may come across as too wholesome to some of the miscreants among our regular readership. The rosy cheeks. The peppy demeanor. The preppy-ish fashion sense. All those things typically indicating “crazed serial killer” in our culture. Not to mention the band’s adherence to an all-white dress code like that creepy cult from The Leftovers.

But once you drop the needle on Good Kids Make Bad Apples (if you haven't done so already, that is, it was released in summer 2020) any such hesitancy will disappear the moment Spud Cannon squirt out the first of the record's many glucose-infused musical hooks (apples and potatoes are full of natural sugars) only about 19 seconds into 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 especially when the band shifts into overdrive and the notes start bouncing off each another like a bunch of brakeless bumper cars just be forewarned it's gonna make you wanna boogie down and bump bump bump your ass off but really why make yourself feel bad for having good clean fun this is perhaps something you should address with your therapist.

The song is quite well constructed too. Like how that first aforementioned hit of musical bliss is super short and leaves you wanting more—a technique known to every halfway competent drugdealer, and no wonder the vocals here describe "feeling like I'm never gonna get enough" in excitable double time—and then after the next verse you get a bigger hit of the hook plus it's followed by an "afterglow section" of 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 building up (this time around the "afterglow section" is slightly extended) before cresting with one last ecstatic climax all in under three minutes time. It's basically a master class in manipulating tension-and-release and hey maybe the fun on offer here isn't so "good and clean" after all...

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 (e.g., 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 “I could meet someone” or more existentially “I could be someone” which establishes a recurring theme on an album full of stories by (and about) all those who “can’t get no satisfaction” (most of us, no?) but still sounding pretty damn buoyant about it because all the yearning and the hope and even the pain itself can be intoxicating--a happy-sad, upbeat-downbeat dynamic nicely captured in the song “You Got It All (NOT)" and hey it's right there in the title.

It’s also pretty cool how the songs on Good Kids Make Bad Apples appear to be in dialogue with one another. Like how on “Juno” 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.” Talk about good kids calling out bad apples (!) even when looking in the mirror.

Or how the wordless “ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-boop-be-doop” refrain from “You Got It All (NOT!)” gets echoed later in the song “Na Na Na” which itself echoes the title and the “let the loser go” theme of the late ‘60s hit “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” crossed with the chiding “na na na na’s” of the J. Giles Band. Some may be tempted to call this “intertextuality” and maybe Spud Cannon too, because these kids-cum-young-adults met at Vassar College and who knows how many semiotics lectures they attended between the five of 'em.

Speaking of Vassar College, GDMBA was recorded on “Squash Court #1” (self-produced no less) which may sound like some hipster Brooklyn studio but no it’s an actual squash court on their college campus that the band possibly maybe surreptitiously occupied late at night to record the album and achieve its big vivid Wall of Sound sound which makes me think squash courts should be utilized for this purpose more often even if it's not the most rock 'n 'roll of sports. (ahhhhhh now the outfits make sense!) Anyway it worked out well apparently because squash courts have the perfect acoustics for the Spuds' big shiny hooks and party-rock ambiance and detailed arrangements (brass, glockenspiel, is that tubular bells?) and in the clip below you'll see the squash coach isn’t even mad at them for scuffing up the court with their glockenspiel.

In conclusion, despite being released last summer, Good Kids Make Bad Apples is perhaps even better suited to this The January Of Our Discontent being an album that radiates warmth and vitality despite the underlying dissatisfaction. Plus a starchy musical diet is good for getting through the winter months. (Jason Lee)

   

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