The Jack McCoys
All The Weeping Cameras
Remember that band For Squirrels? They had what was literally their 15 minutes back in the latter half of the '90s with a song called "The Mighty K.C." (it being the late '90s, I'm guessing you can figure out who the initials stand for), but then half of the band was killed in a tragic accident, and that was the end of the band, I believe. Anyway, The Jack McCoys immediately reminded me of For Squirrels (whose album I bought back then, and liked, by the way). Sort of a roots-informed, melancholy rock band vibe, which also brings Pavement, latter-era Wilco, and Chamberlain to mind at times. The Jack McCoys never get really loud and boisterous, opting to lay the compositions out in a laid-back fashion that lets them breathe but still manages to keep the listener interested (and awake -- I first spun this on a long drive, and if it had been sleep-inducing at all, I would be writing this review from a ditch on Highway 59). I especially like the vocal choices that Matt Savage makes; his voice is distinct and different (the Chamberlain influence), and his wavering, undulating vocals add another layer to these neat little songs. (MHo)
(Ambiguous City! Records -- P.O. Box 31560, Baltimore, MD. 21207; http://www.ambiguouscity.com/)
Sometimes I shudder at the relative ease with which an artist can now just throw his or her work out to the world at large. I hate to be the one to say it (although I'm sure I'm not the first), but there are reasons why people like editors and producers exist, and the harsh reality is that not every little scrap of tape or digital noise is brilliance that everyone would love if only they could hear it. Even with all the sincerity and good intentions in the world, some home-recorded music just plain sucks.
At times like this, though, it's not the ease of the modern D.I.Y. aesthetic that gets me, but the ease with which real-live, honest-to-God brilliance is produced. Daniel Madri and Matt Savage, the duo behind Joy's self-titled debut, here effortlessly throw out a CD's worth of amazing, ridiculously addictive little fragments of pop genius, and I'm left dumbfounded. They begin with "Lump of Eels," a melding of strange, breathy vocals and basic, droning, delicate guitars that sound like Shrimper labelmates, then move triumphantly to "Garden State Parkway," an abbreviated anthem with a beautiful chorus that could've been lifted straight from a Guided By Voices album.
The pair head into Chris Knox/Neutral Milk Hotel weirdsville with "Magma Pump," a sweet, sing-song-y psychedelic pop love song, then back to the quiet and jangly mode for "Sex." A number of the other tracks hit the GbV buttons again, particularly "Pulverized," "My Favorite Parking Lot," and "Something," which sounds to me like nothing more than Nick Drake covering Robert Pollard. Don't take the repeated GbV comparisons too much to heart, though -- it's just that GbV are essentially a benchmark by which any even remotely lo-fi-sounding pop has to be judged, and the songs on Joy do pretty damn well in the measuring. Even the two "good, but not great" tracks on the album, "Little Breaths" and "The Trouble With Motivation," are still good, a cut above the morass of braindead, soulless pop that's out there these days.
These are more like sketches than "real" songs, all in all, but they affect the listener all the same; even the scratchy, bare-walls recording can't destroy the music that's here. It's not minimal, really -- layered vocals duel with pianos, skeletal-sounding drums, and twin guitars on "Pulverized," for example -- but it's still so lo-fi you can picture Madri and Savage crafting a song or two in-between snacks and reruns of South Park in somebody's living room. To their credit, the songs they come up with would sound good in any setting. (JH)
(Shrimper Records -- P.O. Box 1837, Upland, CA. 91785-1837)