A strong sense of confusion overtakes me whenever I see the pilsener style beers that microbreweries put out. Why is Sam Adams or whichever-regional-company-you-adore bothering to make a beer that is the same thing as Bud, Miller, or Coors? The same bland, faceless, boring, unimaginative beer, even from a more lovingly crafted home, is still going to taste exactly like all the others. So I'm always confused when I hear bands like The Murdocks, who for all intents and purposes are an indie band who sound like the bland, faceless, boring, unimaginative pop punk/power pop backed by major labels that I actively avoid. (Danger! Elitist snob quip ahead!) Amazing how much happier I am now that I don't watch TV or listen to the radio.
You know all of those faceless bands who popped up in Green Day's Dookie wake, those alternative rock, power-punk-pop groups with names like Fountains Of Wayne and New Found Glory, who were doomed to achieve popularity for a few months and then dwell forever on radio stations looking back on the pop music of the 00s, forgotten by the rest of the world? Well, The Murdocks sound just like them. Distortionist is a mediocre-at-best album in this style, and that's all you need to know to decide if you want it or not.
I feel genuine sympathy for PR people. Their job is extremely imaginative and creative in its utter lack of honesty or self control. During college I took one of those basic newswriting courses and discovered I had a penchant for crapping out really good material simply because I used and abused the tropes and cliches of the form. My professor, who worked for the single big paper in my area, told me I was a natural at writing for TV news or newspapers. It made me run to the worthless sanctity of music criticism/journalism I poke at in my free time, but the class also made me understand the tough job that PR people have. They do the kind of work that the rest of us think we're above doing or don't have the sheer brass balls to do. Because something like the press release for Distortionist would be an impossible task for me. I would go so far as to say I enjoyed and respected this press release more than the album itself; I couldn't possibly make this music sound as thrilling and multi-faceted as the PR release does. Here's some choice quotes to close with; bolded emphasis is mine:
“...the results exceeded both band and audience expectations; the sugar-pop melodies and raw edginess were still there, but the songs were more fine-tuned and complex.”
“The band’s tour itinerary reflects this mentality, with shows at vomit-stained dive bars in Memphis, to house parties in Iowa City, to sold out shows with bands like Cake, Ben Kweller, and Local H(!?).”
“Distortionist is undoubtedly a step forward for the band, both their heaviest and poppiest work to date. It is this aesthetic dissonance that sets Murdocks apart from other artist: they are as simple as they are challenging, as morbid as they are innocent, as naïve as they are jaded.”
This EP has one of the better covers I've come across lately. It has the same quality as Sunset Rubdown's Random Spirit Lover where you don't notice the key element straightaway. In the case of Spirit, there's some magician dude in the middle of it all. In this case, there's a skull.
The National Rifle are one of the better unknown bands I've come across lately. I've got a huge backlog of reviews to write and this EP has been kicking around my apartment for months simply because I can't think of the proper way to explain their sound and why I like it. Vanity Press showcases a potent brew of 90s and 00s indie rock that sounds original yet owes obvious debts to other bands. Like the first Tapes 'nTapes album, really. But where The Loon tipped its hat to the Pixies, Pavement, and Modest Mouse, The National Rifle are firmly in the Spoon school. There's a bit of Britt Daniel about the singer, and the buoyant rhythms of tracks like 'She's A Waste' are right out of Spoon's playbook. Some of the piano/keyboard parts on 'Jazz History Of The World' are highly reminiscent of Girls Can Tell...but again, somehow this music is merely redolent instead of redundant.
The final track 'Too Much T.V.' is easily the best of this bunch, largely because it plays down the band's Spoon-ocity. Set to a thunking bass and drum beat, the song breaks down into some sharp guitar fired choruses with male/female twin vocals from some alternate world where Black Francis and Kim Deal sang together and were copacetic instead of growing to despise each other. But don't get too excited. This EP is pretty good, but seeing as how it's their fourth to date, it's a bit worrying that I feel that they still have some more growth to reach that proper Tapes 'n Tapes ratio of originality to redolence. After all, how many singles and EP's did Pavement, The Strokes, and Interpol need to shed the obvious scales left over from their dinosaur heritages? Assuming you follow me, suffice it to say in every case it was less than four. Here's hoping their forthcoming (still?) album delivers the goods.
No, seriously, this is a joke, right? I'm not even going to bother taking off the shrink wrap. You can't have a band name, album title, and cover like that and expect me not to laugh.
Wait, it's the band of one of the co-creators of The Venture Bros.? Well, may as well do my duty and give it a fair listen. Maybe it's like a goth version of Tenacious D.
OK, it's a raspy voiced dude fronting a band who can't decide if they want to be The Cure or one of those more modern bands who straddle the metal/gothy line and have slick production and some keyboards. You know, like Orgy did. Wait, are they still around? But I digress. Sample lyric from 'Let Me': “If the rain would let up/moments wouldn't seem bleak.” I may've killed for that kind of sophistication in high school, but now it just makes me want to kill myself because it's so suffused with overwrought depressed melodrama. There's a song with the subtitle '(Nov. Mix)', which I assume I means “November.” It's one of those Fall/Winter months where the weather is all UGH and sad and bleak, yo.
OK, I'm still not fully convinced this isn't some kind of joke or faux-band-becomes-real-band like Dethklok. Do I need to add that the album ends with a one-two punch of covers of 'Right Here, Right Now' (Jesus Jones) and 'Shut Up And Drive' (Rihanna)? Yeah I know, it confuses the matter further still.
Assuming it is a joke, it's not a very funny one. It's just cliched enough in a gothy/80s kind of way that it feels authentic, so it's able to mock its form with its ironic content But the songs aren't that great and it's not over-the-top enough to be good-bad. Well, the combination of the cover, album title, and album cover are pretty funny. Like stumbling on an especially pathetic LiveJournal circa 2000.
Assuming it's meant seriously...Doc Hammer, keep your day job.