I couldn’t care less if I never had to hear Ian Svenonius again. I don’t buy his bullshit anarcho-syndicalist cutie-pie soul routine and I never have. You’d think that nobody else had ever listened to a soul record and read the Situationist International but him. Feh. But I’ve always had (a) sort of a crush on Michelle Mae, and (b) the persistent feeling that Neil Michael Hagerty doesn’t suffer fools gladly, so I agreed to let them act as guarantors of Mr. Sassy’s musical behavior this time around. Hagerty in particular, seeing as how he’s produced plenty of other weird and rewarding records.
Shouldn’t even have bothered. Weird War hold down the fort just OK, sounding more or less like the Make Up with Neil Michael Hagerty playing, but if you ask me, the returns on the DC-Olympia vanilla soul formula have been diminishing for a long time now and show no sign of rebounding.
The name-dropping, mock-trenchant liner note manifestoes, too, are getting more wearisome with every new Svenonius release. Could the guy just cut it out, already? Still, they are never entirely bereft of half-intentional parodic charms. Check out this deep thought: “The liberation of Pepperland was Sgt. Pepper’s struggle. While this struggle co-opted aspects from the anti-imperialist movement, the largely afoot in Paris, Soweto and elsewhere, the ornamentation of the Lonely Hearts Club Band is unmistakably Edwardian English and therefore can be assumed to be reactionary.” Yeah, yeah.
The Suntanama Self-titled (Drag City)
Bluegrass seems to be at an all-time high, Americana is huge in the wake of O Brother, Where Art Thou? but who’s going to let the unfashionable Ozark Mountain Daredevils/Black Oak Arkansas acolytes play on their team? The Suntanama, that’s who! Though straight out of Harlem, New York City, the Suntunama sound more like what Dwight Yoakam’s band from Sling Blade might have aspired to than any of the other currently fashionable creek-rock alternatives out there. Nostalgia can be so selective!
Hard to categorize but for that very reason even harder to ignore, the Suntanama rely on acoustic and subdued electric instruments to get the bayou bulletin across. Vocalist Darren Zoltowski could almost be a caricature of a Southern rock yowler, part John Fogerty, part Neil Young, honking out his vowels with the nasal force of a table saw going through a tough piece of oak. It takes some getting used to, but the strident split-banjo twanging is actually kind of pleasant in context. Anyway, I guess there aren’t that many options for singing along with this kind of swampy stuff.
The other five guys in the band just kind of sit back with their dobros, mandolins and assorted percussion, plunking here and there and pretty much letting Zoltowski do his thing. All 10 songs on this debut mosey past at more or less the same unhurried pace. I kind of get sleepy just thinking about it. Not that that’s a bad thing.
This has got to be one of the more unlikely stylistic candidates for a hipster revival, but that’s Drag City for you.
Mudhoney Since We’ve Become Translucent (Sub Pop)
You young people of today, you can’t even imagine what it was like to be hanging on Sub Pop’s every release back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It was uphill both ways to get to the record store, and we used to fight each other with knives over the latest single with the blurry Charles Peterson photograph and songs that reflected our generational malaise in titles like “Thorn” and “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More.”
I’m not even kidding! We loved that grunge, boy. Hated the word, loved those records. Seattle was a magical place many of us had never been to, but where we were sure you couldn’t walk around downtown without running into members of Mudhoney waiting to get on the monorail or the Screaming Trees eating at Burger King. It blew our minds when the first Mudhoney video made it to MTV’s “120 Minutes.”
Mudhoney never played here, but I bet they will sometime in the next year. I just have a hunch. And I will go see them, if only out of fealty to the former self who would once have quit any job on the spot to see them if the boss wouldn’t give him the night off. ’Cause this new Mudhoney wouldn’t have made the slightest dent on me if I hadn’t been a fan for so long now. Sorry to say, it’s the limpest one since Five-Dollar Bob’s Mock-Cooter Stew. Maybe I just can’t relate with the dripping sarcasm anymore. It might also have something to do with half of the riffles and vocal phrasing grafted directly from previous releases. Romper-stompers like “Take It Like a Man” and “Crooked and Wide” show up too late in the game, and the wah-wah pedal has officially worn out its welcome. Talk about getting on the monorail—Mudhoney have been stuck on it for almost 15 years!