Let’s get this out of the way before we go any further. Grape Soda is my favorite band in Athens right now, and you owe it to yourself to see them as soon, and as often, as possible. The band is made up of local music veterans (and brothers) Mat & Ryan Lewis. They’ve been playing together (and separately) for years, but I’ve never really been moved by any of their previous projects. Yet somehow, for some reason Grape Soda takes me somewhere. And there aren’t many bands in town these days who can even get me to pay attention.
The setup is simple enough. Garage rock drums from Ryan and spaced-out keyboards from Mat. But there's something unlikely in Mat's voice, a yearning, a soulfulness that you don't notice at first. Go to their myspace and listen to "Not Mine," a song that should be ringing out of radios & ipods all over the world, and maybe someday soon it will. Grape Soda sounds like no other band on earth that I know of, and in 2010 that counts for a lot.
Titans of Filth
With a lot of bands, it seems like their songs all sound the same. With Titans of Filth, it seems like you are literally listening to the same song over and over again. The fact that 90% of the songs are in the same key (B-major in case you're wondering, which just isn't natural) doesn't help. Unless, of course, Titans of Filth is trying to pull off an elaborate conceptual art move. In which case, I enthusiastically applaud their daring and suggest that we, their future audience, attempt to one-up the band by demanding an encore at their next show. At which they point they will come out and play. . . yet another song that sounds just like the last one. Warhol would be proud.
They're lucky I just happen to like that one song. Sam's voice, a mixture of Calvin Johnson and Stephen Merritt, is so flat you could run a net across it and play yourself a regulation game of ping-pong. And I mean that as a compliment.
The last time I saw Eureka California they had five bandmembers and I didn't like them very much. Last Saturday, they were down to three members and I liked them a little better. Who knows, maybe they could lose another member and become downright loveable? I nominate the singer/guitarist. To be fair, the band's recordings sound a lot better than their live set, which was a rocking, indistinct mush. On record, a couple of the songs seem to actually have hooks. "Milwaukee," at least, could hold its own with any local music compilation around. And if that's good enough for EC, then it's good enough for me. As a parting compliment, Wyatt Strother may be pound-for-pound the most powerful drummer in rock.
And as a parting fact, I've been to Eureka, California the place, and "kind bud" aside, it is a total shithole. Far more of a shithole than EC the band could ever be. Even if they expanded their line-up to Dark Meat-esque quantities.
The evening was a record-release party for both Euereka California and Werewolves. Werewolves frontman Wyatt Strother (you may have noticed, if you've been paying attention, that he plays in both bands) is putting out both bands' albums on his own Athens Horse Party label. Werewolves has been criticized in some places for sounding a little bit too much like Neutral Milk Hotel. Which is understandable. If you move to Liverpool and start a band that sounds like The Beatles, or move to Manchester and start a band that sounds like Joy Division, or move to Boston and start a band that sounds like, uh... Boston, people there are probably going to notice.
Anyway, you judge.
Whatever. I think they sound more like The Decemberists. But Werewolves--and honestly, it's just Wyatt, I woudln't compare the rest of the band to NMH at all--does have the same wide-eyed, intense gaze of Mangum, a similar voice, and an even more frequent "ba-ba-ba"-ing when he sings.
Personally, I have no problem on earth with Werewolves sounding like NMH, or anyone else for that matter. However, I should state for the record, and for all the NMH-influenced bands out there, that my reasons for loving that band had little to do with Mr. Mangum's nasally voice, or the aforementioned "ba-ba-ba"-ing. Or for the horns and additional instruments that were used to flesh out his songs. I loved, and continue to love NMH of words as strange and compelling as this.
The movements were beautiful
All in your ovaries
All of them milking with green fleshy flowers
While powerful pistons were sugary sweet machines
And for performances like this.
I'm not disappointed because Werewolves may be influenced by NMH. I'm disappointed that they only seem to be influenced by the parts of NMH that are the easiest to replicate, i.e. the sound & the style. Unfortunately, the substance seems to be (for now) beyond Wyatt Strother's grasp.
I doubt even he would try to compare one of his own lines, "Pieces of my body made from plastic, glue and steel form the only temple without the capacity to feel," to anything by NMH (and just so you know, I tried to pick out one of the better lyrics I was able to find). But maybe he should try it sometime, because all too often his lyric writing falls back on the easy image (a vague noun like "things" seems to be a favorite), or unearned sentimentality like, "You will lay to rest inside my heart and I won't leave you alone." LuckyCharm words like "heart" pop up more than they need to. By not holding himself to a higher standard, he does a disservice to his songs, as well as his own imagination.
But the truth is, all criticism aside, the fact remains that Wyatt Strother is trying. In fact, he is trying very hard. I just hope that he keeps trying. A friend of mine once played me some recordings Jeff Mangum made circa 1992. They were, to put it mildly, underwhelming. The people we are today are not the same people we are going to be tomorrow, and that goes for Wyatt Strother as well.
Please, Wyatt, if you are reading this go and get yourself some poetry from the UGA library. Bill Knott and Frank Stanford are a good place to start. Please don't make the same mistake that so many musicians in this town make, and look solely to other musicians and their lyrics as the source of your inspiration. Try to sound like something you're not capable of sounding like. Reach beyond your grasp. I'm expecting to be blown away when I see your band a year from now.
I'm also expecting you to lose the constant self-deprecation bit. I understand where it comes from, and I'm sypathetic, but it got old pretty quick. Perhaps you could take it into shelf-deprecation? Goddamit, all my lacrosse trophies fell down! Or even elf-deprecation? These E.L. Fudge cookies taste like shit! And Will Ferrell is a shitty actor!
By the way, there's a band in New York who is also called Werewolves. www.myspace.com/amsterdam They are on a record label, which means they probably own the name. Maybe Werewolves Jr.? Or The Werewolves UK?