The General Store
If Local Honey had come out in the mid-1990s, the General Store would've been tagged as alt-country, which would have been a mistake. The album is infused with a cosmic cowboy vibe, true, but it's less the "cowboy" than the "cosmic" part that seems to be pivotal, as Store manager Tam Johnstone psychedelicizes the sometimes rustic instrumentation, so that songs like the opening "Letdown" sound like Wayne Coyne singing druggy, country-based AM pop songs after listening to After The Gold Rush. It's a neat trick, but there's a bit too much derivativeness throughout Local Honey; "The Space Between Us" is like a trippier version of Jellyfish's "Russian Hill" (which was itself pastiche), and the lyrics to "Airport Breakfast" sideswipe "Fly Like An Eagle" and "Eight Miles High" atop what sounds like a Nashville garage band tearing through Elvis Costello's "Tokyo Storm Warning." Not only that, "Pretty Eyes" follows the chord progression from Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" for a bit too long for comfort (though it's clearly a coincidence, as Local Honey was released a scant two weeks after Stripped), even as the Nicky Hopkins-style piano returns it to the land of "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" from whence "Beautiful" came. That makes a bit more sense once you learn that Johnstone's father Davey has been Elton John's guitarist since not long after Bernie Taupin entered the picture, but it would be nice if Johnstone the younger ventured out into the great interstellar prairie and claimed his own homestead. (MH)
(Not Lame Recordings -- P.O. Box 2266, Fort Collins, CO. 80522; http://www.notlame.com/; The General Store -- http://www.generalstoremusic.com/)
Now that rock is essentially dead and we have nothing to do but sit back and contemplate its corpse, it seems that everyone who deals in aggro can't afford to put all their chips on any one subgenre (hardcore, emo, speed/death/black metal, zoomy pop-punk, atonal rap-metal), so they've got to stuff a little bit of everything in their songs. Either that, or these allegedly punk kids nowadays are tin-eared suckfishes who don't understand anything but pastiche. Which brings us to Glasseater, a five-guy combo from Florida, who put together these rather longish songs in a seemingly Shake'n'Bake fashion, lurching from cinematic, hurtling pop-punk to strutting Fugazi-like breaks to boring sludge metal almost at will.
Whether this is all part of some kind of aesthetic is kind of a moot point as this is rock for the attention- and rock history-challenged, but in all they're best in the more melodic passages -- indeed the one singer of two who doesn't howl incomprehensibly in an asinine fashion at the top of lungs is a little reminiscent of Billie Joe Armstrong, without as much of an adenoid problem -- and lyrically, we're in the same territory, with a couple of exceptions, as thousands of other bands that have trouble getting along with girls. The best tracks are the more unstintingly poppy ones like "Betting on a Loser," the fine title track; there are a few nice sonic touches like the lovely piano outro to "Words to Make Up" as the song ebbs slowly away, and the vocal harmonies on "Magic Song." The "secret" track that ends the record is an updated by presumably unironic cover of the Skid Row tune "I Remember You," first recorded, undoubtedly, when everybody in this band was in knee-pants. The track neatly encapsulates the problem with bands like this one; punk, let's all recall, used to be equal parts genuine anger and goofiness, and the latter's a crucial leavening ingredient in the punk-rock pie. But what Glasseater wants more than just about anything is to be taken seriously, man, and their plaintive yearnings bring them to edge of laughability What's best about this record? The Hard-Ons were doing 15 years ago, and most importantly, they had their collective tongue in their collective cheek. Screeching Weasel! thou should'st be living at this hour. (MA)
(Fearless Records -- 13772 Goldenwest St. #545, Westminster, CA. 92683; http://www.fearlessrecords.com/; Glasseater -- http://www.glasseater.com/)
Jared Grabb/The Lesser Birds of Paradise
To begin with, I feel compelled to point out that split albums (or EPs, or whatever) can be a pretty risky proposition. Yeah, they're great for the listener (two bands for the price of one, after all, maybe even with less filler than most full-lengths) and they're relatively easy on the bands' respective bank accounts, but from a marketing perspective, they're a disaster. Think about it: if you want your band to get noticed and make new fans, then why the hell would you want to cram your music onto a CD right alongside another band's music? It's human nature to compare and contrast two things that are sitting side-by-side; that's why "battle of the bands" shows were invented, after all.
With that in mind, I ended up being pleasantly surprised by Reading Light, a split-CD featuring jangly, earnest indie-folkster Jared Grabb and rockers The Lesser Birds of Paradise. I'd figured that placed next to one another, one or the other of the two would suffer from the juxtaposition, but that's not really the case. Neither Grabb nor the Birds are perfect, no -- it takes a while to get used to Grabb's stuffed-up-sounding vocals, and "Josephine" has that half-assed, not-quite-produced feel that's almost worse than totally blowing it and not caring, Cramps-style -- but they are both actually pretty good.
The first two tracks go to Grabb, and each one has its good and bad points. "My Heart Does Not Travel," a beautiful, delicate little meditation about being unable to leave home because your family loves you that ends with a folksong-ish chorus of "Deep and wide / Deep and wide / There's a fountain flowing deep and wide," is a good song, but it took a while to sink in simply because it took me a while to get used to Grabb's vocals (hate to say it, but I almost wished his brother, with whom he duets on the track, would just sing the whole damn thing). "Restoration of Beauty," while a lower-key affair, works better vocals-wise, sounding halfway like some of Billy Bragg's less-political stuff, and in a good way. If the rest of Jared's solo efforts sound like this, I'd like to hear more of 'em.
The Lesser Birds of Paradise take over after that, and with the sound of a needle dropping on a record, the mood of the EP changes pretty drastically. Compared to Grabb's sitting-on-the-front-porch Midwestern melancholia, the Birds are a caffeinated bum rush in through the front door. The music's fairly basic, speedy pop-rock, along the lines of The Smoking Popes or Mercyland (which makes some sense, as I'd swear the bassline to "Josephine" rips off ex-Mercyland frontman David Barbe's later work in Sugar). The first of the two tracks, "Josephine," is decent, kind of a throwaway pop song about a crush on the bad girl in town, but the second, "Boy (Loud)," has a nice mid-'90s indie-rock roar to it, even if I have no clue what singer Mark Janka is talking about. It ain't the be-all and end-all of rock, but it's not half bad otherwise. (JH)
(Thinker Thought Records -- 1002 Devonshire Road, Washington, IL. 61571; http://www.thinkerthoughtwrong.com/; The Lesser Birds of Paradise -- http://www.lesserbirds.com/)