Stab the Unstoppable Hero
It’s been a while since an Arlo came along. Power pop that’s not pop punk. An indie-rock band that draws chord changes and distortion patches from the Cars and the Knack, not Pearl Jam and Nirvana. An emo-fueled quartet who wants its gang vocals to be reminiscent of both the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and early Cheap Trick. The obvious Weezer comparison is there and it’s justified—beautiful losers, depressing lyrics paired with happy pop riffs, a longing to return to an imperfect childhood. All this, yet Arlo is no cheap Xerox.
Stab the Unstoppable Hero is the Los Angeles band’s second LP for Sub Pop, the Seattle mega-indie label that signed the band in 2000. If you don’t mind a little candy coating to your noise, it’s hard to imagine disliking this album. The first three tunes, “Little American,” “Working Title” and “Runaround” all shine with the same pleasing but unremarkable super-poppy hard candy shell. But from track four, the title track, things become more interesting.
“Stab the Unstoppable,” with its strange time signature and stranger lyrics, induces crazed jumping and shouting when played live. “Stoned,” with its great harmonies, sounds like a pop gem Neil Diamond could have written for the Monkees (Well, it probably wouldn’t be called “Stoned” and the Monkees tended not to shout as much as Arlo). Then comes “Bus Stop,” another perfect little ditty, this one done on acoustic guitars with an alt-county twang, and “Up,” a straight ’70s Southern boogie.
After a few listens, it becomes pretty clear that Arlo work from only a handful of templates and repeat them over and over again—but to be fair, most rock bands today have only two types of songs in their arsenal (the new grunge rocker and the power ballad). Arlo’s repetition never gets annoying because each time they rewrite a tune they improve.
Stab the Unstoppable Hero doesn’t redefine a genre or reinvent rock ’n’ roll, rather it’s just pop music at it’s finest—big hooks, big harmonies and a big guitar attack.
Note: The Independent’s Captain Calendar is convinced that Arlo’s song “Up” is about a local Missoula personality. Show at Arlo’s gig at Jay’s Upstairs on Wednesday, Oct. 16 and ask the Captain how he justifies this theory.
Drums & Tuba
Talk about your misleading band names. Yes, they do have a drummer and tuba player, but they sound nothing like you and your high school band buddy did screwing around while second chair trumpet Jamie Louise got chewed out by Mr. Moody for getting gum stuck in a valve. Instead, the trio (apparently all bands must have a guitar player to survive) play a mix of instrumental live electronic, Meters-style funk and Zeppelin-esque thumps, all with a tuba holding down the bass lines.
Like so many current bands, Tony Nozero (drums), Brian Wolff (tuba) and Neal McKeeby (guitar) take the grab bag approach, mixing elements of rock, jazz, metal, electronica and New Orleans brass band traditions.
But unlike most modern bands who claim multiple influences and really just imitate the Beatles, Stones, Ramones or Phish, Drums & Tuba amalgamates disparate genres to create something fresh. One litmus test to find out if a band is really as manifold as they claim: Find out whom they’ve opened for. If it’s Green Day, Rancid, Blink-182, they’re probably not the folk-metal-flamenco hybrid they claim to be.
Drums & Tuba pass this test pretty well. They’ve opened for Ani DiFranco, Galactic and Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade, among others.
On Drums & Tuba’s last album, Vinyl Killer, the band mostly concentrated on their electronic effect, drum loop and groove side.
With Mostly Ape, their 2002 release (both albums are on Righteous Babe Records), they’ve pumped up the Zep/Sabbath/Deep Purple side. They open the record with “Brain Liaters,” a track that begins with the buzzes and loops prevalent on Vinyl Killer but evolves into a sludgy rock dirge. It’s as if Page, Bonham and John Paul Jones booted Plant for a nerdy, computer-obsessed dial turner like Moby or Fat Boy Slim. They repeat this pattern for most of the album.
Occasionally peppy, poppy tunes like “The Metrics” and “Clashing” seem to clean things up a bit. But after a verse or two of the straight-ahead groove, Drums & Tuba always bring the listener back into the sublime trough of thumping rock.
The result of this is that Mostly Ape is more rock ’n’ roll than its predecessor. As their music becomes less dependent on technological gadgetry, the writing becomes tighter. Most of the songs seem to follow the verse/chorus/bridge structure and one can almost hear the space where Plant would yowl, Ozzy would bark or Anthony Kiedis would pine away for a fallen friend.
Those wishing to sample the sound before they buy the CD can see Drums & Tuba play live at The Ritz on Friday, Oct. 11. For those who have already decided to buy the album, well, Lord help you if you organize your CD collection by genre.