Friday, April 28, 2006

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: The 88 and Mbconn

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
April 28, 2006

Not long ago I was in my car with The New Pornographers’ first album, Mass Romantic, in the CD player. When it finished, I decided to pop in something I’d never heard of before from my new CD pile — Over and Over, by The 88.

When the first song, “Hide Another Mistake,” came on, for a moment I thought I’d made a mistake. I didn’t recognize the song, but I wondered: Could I have left the New Pornographers CD in the player? I’ve done dumber things before while trying to change CDs in the middle of traffic. (Or even away from my car. Ask any frequent listener of my radio shows.)

But no, this was indeed the right disc.

Like the Pornographers, this Los Angeles band, led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Keith Slettedahl, plays upbeat, hoppy-poppy, infectious rock — at least on their best songs. I probably should have known by the mod, Ă  go-go, New Wavy album cover, which pictures a miniskirted model in sunglasses relaxing with oversized headphones in a red plastic Jetsons-style recliner.

Besides the Pornographers, you can hear echoes of The Kinks, T-Rex, perhaps The Beatles, and even a little Mott the Hoople in the mix.

One of the best tunes here is “Nobody Cares,” which features a prominent honky-tonk piano by Adam Merrin. Slettedahl has a hint of a yodel in his voice as he sings the refrain, “Nobody cares what you’ve been through and nobody cares how much you do and nobody cares what kind of drugs you’re on.”

It was only after listening to Over and Over a couple of times that I learned one of the songs, “Coming Home,” was being used in a commercial for Target discount stores. In these corporate times, this seems to be a major way that new bands are being introduced. (Remember The Shins and McDonald’s?)

I’ve yet to see the commercial, and I’m not sick of it yet, so “Coming Home” sounds great to me right now. It’s bouncy, extremely hummable — and bound to move a lot of patio furniture.

The 88 stumbles when it tries to go acoustic on “You Belong to Me” or slow and goopy on “Jesus Is Good,” where they sound like they’re making a halfhearted effort to evoke The Band.

The main trouble with this record is that Slettedahl and crew don’t seem to be able to keep the energy they lay down on the first several songs. Over and Over starts to sag in the middle. When they’re up, The 88 is a lot of fun. However, this album is burdened with too many forgettable tunes.

The 88 plays Monday, May 1, at the Launchpad, 618 Central Ave. S.W., in Albuquerque. Admission is $7. I don’t think they’re selling advance tickets at Target.


Also Noted:
From Black to Purple by Mbconn, This is one of the strangest, most weirdly satisfying CDs to cross my path in some time.

All I really know about the self-described “psychedelic noise rock artist” Mbconn is that his real name is Alex Loesche, he lives in Chicago, and he likes old Guns ’n’ Roses — though he’s glad that Nirvana usurped their popularity and that his music doesn’t sound much like either band.

An e-mail press release for the CD says, “After scoring a screenplay someone had left behind in a bar, spending years trying to start a band and not being able to find the right musicians, Mbconn decided to just record the album himself.”

From Black to Purple sounds like a soundtrack for a movie that could never be as good as its soundtrack.

The album has a homemade — but not sloppy — feel about it. I imagine a kid with an electric guitar and various other instruments locked in a bedroom and creating a dark universe of guitar, synths, and drums.

But despite the sonic darkness, there are light moments. When Mbconn sings, his lyrics are stream-of-consciousness, almost childlike verse that reminds me of Daniel Johnston (though his voice is closer to Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis).

“From the bottle to the door/I poked holes in their folklore,” he drawls in the first song, “Thursday Night Crowd.” Later in the song, he sings about a woman who is “hoping all the rich guys will stare/’cause every time she stands up she’s showing off her underwear.”

Most of the songs are opuses that are at least six minutes long. There’s one almost pretty, three-minute piece called “The Breather,” and one raging 27-minute “hidden track” — “Troubadour’s Blues” — that doesn’t really hide very well.

This album might be challenging for some. I don’t foresee any of these songs being used in a television commercial. But it’s very listenable, the kind of music I like for driving at night on long, lonesome road trips.

(Check out Mbconn’s Web site . You can download several songs there, including “Troubadour’s Blues.”)

No comments:

Post a Comment

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Remembering Odetta

 On this day, just 13 years ago, December 2, 2008, a very powerful voice in American folk music went silent. Odetta Holmes, who was kn...