Friday, December 28, 2012

Midwest Audio, Vol 1, Part 4--Deals with the Devil, Holidays in Our Heads, Coffee-Fueled Rapture and Loads of Punk Bravado

Midwestern Audio, Vol. 1’s second disc starts with a ten song run as coherent as if these (all previously released) cuts were all meant to be played together. (Actually, in the old days, that would have translated into an entire coherent album.) Part of the credit for the unity of this project has to go to engineer Pat Tomek, who not only pulls the sound together but had to have made many of these sequencing choices. But there’s another part that has to do with an artistic ethos developed as a form of survival…not incidentally in a society that does not particularly respect music (or art) as a way to make a living. 

It starts with frenetic rolling drums, horns and hints of Spanish guitar. The Water MoccaSins’ “Diablo Diablo” is an ironically Dune Buggy-sunny take on the “Crossroads Blues” theme. By definition, it's great fun at a no doubt dreadful cost.

Tom-toms and handclaps fight to keep spirits up for ACBs’ “My Face,” a work of adrenaline over frustration.  In one sense, that’s what rock always is, but this particular version, in form and content, gets set in the universal context of a child watching others at play, unable to join in. If that Diablo made house calls, another contract would be in the offing.

The Empty Spaces’ “Holidays are Nice and Warm” chases a similar theme, this time seemingly trapped in a dingy Westport bar and dreaming of playing somewhere far, far away. Lead singer (Mat Shoare?) sounds more than a little like the Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley—both for the odd appeal of his whinging cries and for the way this could be a lost option for Singles Going Steady, sounding every bit as fresh and raw today as any of those records still do.

Like the Empty Spaces record, Schwervon!’s “Wake and Bomb” could also be one of those little plastic singles that used to come inside Trouser Press magazine.  Minimalist bass, drums and guitar rumble against morning rants. Again, what’s underscored by these tracks is the perennial vitality of the punk impulse—particularly when it does as good as job as this capturing the everyday suicidal angst and anger of those inoculated against dreams and promises. Raging against the dying of the light is indeed something to do. 

Racing against that same light, The Brannock Device’s “King of the Soapbox Derby” burns a rockabilly free jazz fire that holds off the darkness. Rarely has contemptuous aggression sounded more comforting, even optimistic.  At least there’s hope in the fight.  At least there’s the real light sparked by drums, guitar and words spit as kindling.

The Beautiful Bodies’ “You’re a Risk” carries this present tense desperation forward with the refrain, “I want to be alive, tonight!” Alicia Solombrino’s hyper-energetic, expressive vocals bounce the spaces between rubber-band bass, trash can drums and starlight guitar. When she ends with a kind of primal scream, she’s earned its satisfied smile.

Also reveling in the moment, The Dead Girls’ “It’s All Happening” fights for some perspective on perspective. Repeating the refrain, “I didn’t think this all would happen,” like a mantra, the singers engage in a sort of dialectic about the implications of the moment. Pounding drums and a giddy, classically grand, dual guitar attack signal the simple answer long before it’s stated—“tell it like it is.”

Speaking of dialectics, the seemingly domestic battle in Deco Auto’s “Pointless Fight” asks “why bother when you could just give in?” Of course, as such battles go, it ain’t that easy, so nothing really changes over the course of the three minute surrender. Fortunately, singer Steven Garcia’s shouted refrains and the power trio’s lean, yet massive, attack find some measure of righteousness in the effort to walk away.

Just don’t try to walk on The Quivers’ Terra Peal. “Blue Light” begins with her shaking it into your thick head that she’ll be done with you when she tells you she is. It pretty much ends that way, too. What makes this fight of a dance so much fun is the bravado of her two fisted vocal up against insistent drums, keys and Abe Haddad’s tumbling surf guitar.

One of my strong contenders for best song in this solid collection comes next, The Grisly Hand’s “Black Coffee.” It’s the story of a Quik Cash teller the morning after a night of aggravated drinking, rallying to face another gray day. Jimmy Fitzner and Lauren Krum’s duet vocals offer just the right grist to an impossibly hook-laden melody, and what begins as a simple back porch lament evolves into some “Rainy Day Women #12 and #35” neighborhood sing-a-long. A minor-keyed triumph of dirt-laden pride, this record plows straight through social and self-denigration, shouting “You ain’t ready for me!”

Stay tuned for the conclusion….

Buy Now, name your price!

Proceeds for Midwestern Audio, Vol  1 go to good folks:  The Midwest Music Foundation (MMF) is an educational arts organization that unites performer and audience and fills a health care gap for Kansas City musicians. Each yeah, MMF puts on a showcase at Austin TX's SXSW Festival to showcase Kansas City (and midwest) bands.

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