Last year i reviewed the album Compact Disc by North Carolina band SWTHRT. It was a type of lo-fi new wave music made by a band that was, in effect, a side project of Museum Mouth. I enjoyed the record, and my enthusiasm obviously reached the band, who then sent me a promo of this, their second full-length.
Museum Mouth consists of drummer/vocalist Karl Kuehn (who is also in SWTHRT), guitarist Graham High (who is the brother of the other half of SWTHRT), and bassist Kory Urban. The music is jangly poppy punk, recorded in a generally lo-fi manner.
And just like on the SWTHRT record, Kuehn's voice is recorded very echoey and way out front of the music, almost like he is whispering the words loudly, but right next to you. It is an odd layering effect that makes the singing often seem louder than everything else in a song. This might turn people off since it takes some getting used to.
However, if you push past that, i think that Kuehn is actually a really good lyricist. Not that he is writing deep poetry (he's no Kerouac, or Bukowski, or Snyder mind you) but he does write songs about bitterness and romantic angst in a way that reminds me, slightly, of Billy Bragg. Both of them write about being hapless at love, and make it seem catchy and vaguely funny at the same time.
Consider the song Certain Doom which starts with him describing how he used to idolize one partner, but it all went bad. And the song ends with a minute of Kuehn chanting "I'm meant to be single" over and over while the bass rolls along and High's guitar whines and whirrs. Or Blood Hammer, where he keeps saying, "I wanna be alone / so I wanna be with you" to some lover who ignores him, apparently. He sings this over thudding drums and a loud guitar riff that sounds almost like something from an early Gang of 4 song -- all trebly and loud. And, of course, BuzzBrain which starts off with Kuehn singing "When all you do is write songs / you'll never have a social life", speaking from experience i suppose. But as the song goes along, he keeps returning to the phrase "My greatest / contribution / to the world / will be to / stay out of the way" in a staccato stutter while the drums fly and High and Urban thrash away. It is messy and fun.
I suppose it helps that Kuehn's lyricism is wrapped up some really catchy tunes. High plays guitar trebly and fast, a whirring blur that is reminiscent of Billy Bragg at times, and of Andy Gill at others. Urban plays his bass fast and simply, at times replicating the thud of Laura Ballance and at others feeding it though distortion to come across like Lou Barlow on early Dinosaur, Jr. records.
In addition to the tunes i mentioned above, there are a few others i want to go over.
The title track moves at a cracking pace, the guitar whirring as the drums thunder and the voice is echoed all to hell and back. It is messy and fast, but fun, like an early punk tune. Blood Mountain, on the other hand, is epic and big sounding. The guitar reverbs tremendously, seeming to fill the whole world with its high pitched warble. Lovely.
Swahili is, perhaps, one of the catchiest songs that i have heard in a long time. The drums and bass saunter along while High plays a great riff that really crunches. I bet this one fills the mosh pits at their shows.
Not that there are any bad songs on this record. There are twelve tracks, and only one breaks the three minute mark. Each songs fast and is echoey and loud. The vocals take some getting used to, but i have found much to enjoy here.