Liner notes for the Revolution: Grand Army Reapers EP finds them walking on a wire

Grand Army Reapers are a five-piece band who make music that weaves and careens like a cheap wobbly spinning top or an extremely revved-up hamster wheel or a tipsy Midwestern sailor on shore leave for the first time in Times Square and you just know there’s going to be trouble but which doesn’t collapse in on itself despite the mix of chaotic energy and woozy insouciance, or maybe exactly because of the mix of chaotic energy and woozy insouciance which produces a sort of centripetal force that keeps the whole contraption from jumping the track. 

It’s a theory anyway. But one based on first-hand observation because a couple weeks ago I got a chance to see the Grand Army Reaper gang play live which inspired the overstimulated mixed metaphors above, although not right there in the moment because the band were too transporting with their blissed out unhinged energy to be verbalized upon first encounter, and plus there were drinks and conversations to be had after.

And here’s another thing. The band recently put out an EP called Alive, Alive (from King Killer) made up of six self-recorded songs laid down over a mere couple days in the band’s own practice space, recorded live in large part ("a semi-live, DIY studio album") with no more than a few takes allowed for any one song, thusly giving the listener a good taste of GAR’s visceral impact in the flesh (reader’s note: you should still see them live) opening with a downright groovy garage rockin' Strokes-meets-Cramps-meets-Clash singalong (granted one about police brutality) called “Black Tape” and culminating 18 minutes later with a Stoogey sax-assisted howl into the abyss called “Bug Hunt” and yeah Kiss Alive or Alive II this ain’t, it's more along the lines of Naked Lunch.

Other cited musical influences range from Oingo Boingo to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to classic surf rock and on GAR's very own Bandcamp page Ben (sticks and skins), Chuck (strings), Erik (mouth stuff), Krish (strings), and MK (low end) describe their sound as “occult rock inspired by the energy and weirdness of early-70's NY and warped cassettes found under the passenger seat of your sister's 1984 Volvo 240 DL” and while I’ve never been in a 1984 Volvo 240 DL before (or had a sister, I think!) the Seventies New York comparison rings true seeing as how when the city was careening out of control and nearing a state of total societal breakdown its inhabitants somehow managed to invent punk, disco, and hip hop.

And this teetering-on-the-edge-between-chaos-and-control musical quality bleeds over into Grand Army Reapers’ lyrics as well on Alive, Alive overflowing as they are with extreme emotional states, fury at state-sponsored violence, and personal reckonings with addition, disease, and mental health issues, all while managing to be purging and affirming too (that's the magic of music!) a realization I had thanks to generous track-by-track liner notes provided by GAR's lead songwriter Erik Reaper who was kind enough to share some revealing insights into both the EP's lyrics and music and he really laid it all out (respect, sir!) liner notes which can be read in full after the jump... (Jason Lee)


Black Tape

          This is a protest song, written around the anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s murder. Cops are here to maintain the status quo and punch down on behalf of property owners. That’s it. “NYPD, murder with impunity. NYPD, a theater of security. NYPD, white ego, white fragility. NYPD, a menace to communities.”

          Musically it's very much inspired by The Clash. I wasn’t trying to overthink this one. It snowballed from a riff idea into a fully formed song within one afternoon. I usually torture myself for days to weeks, finalizing the structure and lyrics before committing to a demo that I send to my bandmates. With this song, there was an immediate momentum that I wanted to maintain throughout the process. 

Distraction from Sadness

          This was originally 3 different songs that I kinda forced together: an intro/refrain that was really hooky and angular like a Buzzcocks or Nick Lowe song, a morose chorus that’s basically Johnny Thunders’ “Society Makes Me Sad,” and an outro that veers hard into a Buddy Holly dreamscape. Lyrically, it’s about being paralyzed by self-doubt, so you make excuses and distract yourself with bullshit. There isn’t really a conclusion, it just ends with a complete detour, kind of like the concept behind the lyrics I guess.

Long-Covid Blues

          I actually despise songs that are overtly topical, but I felt like torturing myself a little on this one. This is basically a Richard Hell song about long-hauler covid symptoms, insomnia, delirium, and shapeshifting into some kind of werewolf while exchanging coded messages with some outside entity in the personal ads section of the NY Post.

Screenplay 1979

          Joy Division (referenced at the mid-point of the intro) becomes The Damned covering “Jet Boy, Jet Girl”. This song is about a girl and a boy. Big whoop. While recording this song, I had just learned that my cousin had overdosed on fentanyl, that plays a weirder role in “Snowed Out,” but it definitely affected my mood and vocal delivery in a way that felt pretty terrible. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to keep recording that day, but I really wanted to push forward. We weren’t necessarily on a tight schedule with this album, but I had a set of rules in mind about maintaining a “live” feel, even if performance get a little weird.

Snowed Out
         I just couldn’t go on with vocals for this one. I had to call it a day after the first take. Lyrically it was too on-the-nose considering the news I got that morning. I called my aunt. I didn’t really have anything to say. She cried a lot. I haven’t seen my family in 3 years. I finished vocals the next day.
        This is a song about substance abuse and functional junky-ism among us over-educated, over-worked, and underpaid. It’s also about poor management of mood disorders, oscillating between depression and grandiosity, with substance abuse and pseudo-spirituality thrown in.

            I’m not sure why I went that route lyrically. I think there’s a sense of get-up and hustle to the verse that pulled me in that direction. The chorus feels like melodic despair.
         I also struggle with mood swings and ADHD to the point that it affects my relationships, my work, and my sense of self. A lot of it is how I manage the content of my thoughts as well.
         There’s a really ugly trend on the internets these days that romanticizes mental health and mood disorders. Maybe it’s not new, but I see content pop up on my feed that makes me cringe. This song is meant to be an indictment of that sort of content.

I should also clarify that I don’t mess around with opioids, and I don’t want this song to be taken as anything less than extremely critical of using drugs as self-medication for self-diagnosed problems, especially when it hurts the people around you and eventually yourself.

Bug Hunt

            This is an east Texas bug-stomper of a song. CCR meets the dropship scene from Aliens. Lots of Captain Beefheart and Willy DeVille inspiration on this one. Not much else to say about it.



Band name: 
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Bar Freda
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Band name: 
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Purgatory BK
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The true meaning of Hello Mary "Sinks In" with latest single

photo by Nolan Zangas

The first time I heard the name Hello Mary I instantly assumed it must be the name of a Christian puppet show like the ones put on by the inimitable Tammy Faye back in the day (RIP) on her TV programs (PTL Club, The Tammy Faye Show) with the phrase “Hello, Mary!” being the first words out of the resurrected Jesus’s felt mouth after He has risen from the dead, waking with a start and one hell of a hangover, and then taking a stroll outside his tomb to see what’s up nevermind that pesky giant boulder in the way only to find Mary Magdalene and “Big Mama” Mother Mary right there outside waiting faithfully for Him to whom He speaks the aforementioned salutation.

Anyway, it’s a theory. Except in this case the reality is even better than the theory because in reality Hello Mary is a young and upcoming NYC-based-indie-alt-rock trio whose combined age is probably less than the age of Axl Rose’s oldest hair extensions and, I’ll just go ahead and say it, each one of Hello Mary’s songs to date rocks harder and more convincingly/compellingly than the entirety of Chinese Democracy.  

Take their latest single for instance released just days ago, “Stinge” backed by “Sink in,” or “Sink In” backed by “Stinge,” these things are difficult to parse in the streaming age. But anyway “Sting” comes first in the running order, a song addressed to a mercurial character who “may be the one for good” but who “leave[s] just as it gets fun” which is precisely why “they said I should run” and sometimes “they” know best and yes I realize there's an unreasonably large gap between the Bandcamp embed above and this text which I blame on the new Spotify-people owners.

Meanwhile the music of “Stinge” (definition: a person or other entity who is stingy) ably captures the emotional whiplash of the narrator’s romantic longings and loser-induced frustrations flipping back and forth between the grinding riff of the song’s intro, the jangly shoegazy float of the verses with some nice off-kilter chords, and the bridge section that sounds something like an underwater waltz. 

“Sink In” comes next which is quite possibly a song about the stark reality of the previous song fully sinking in where “it starts to drift and fall away / mostly from saying all I had to say” which I gotta say jumping straight to the fifth stage of grief in the second song is an encouraging sign of psychological health and if this is what acceptance sounds like then sign me up because this song rips starting off with a James Iha-esque alternation between a contemplative riff and head-drubbing power chords (the “sink in” part) before bursting open like an overpollenated flower full of “oohs” and “ahhs” ascending to the heavens (one of my fave musical moments of the year so far) and oh yeah there’s a guitar solo too with heavy reverb and note bending and more oohs and ahhs over some altered chords and it’s a pretty exciting ride and a pretty one too.

Across these two songs Hello Mary continue to hone their appetizing mix of heavy musical dramatics spiked with an enticing sense of play (cuz dammit these young ladies know how to write a catchy hook that’s for sure just see "Ginger" below) and a trippy psychedelia-adjacent vibe (see “Take Something” above for another example) and when you put together this mix of heavy and light and just plain weird it’s not entirely unlike (wait for it…) a bizarro Christian puppet show or a close encounter with Axl Rose’s dreads. (Jason Lee)


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)