Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Adelies - "Show Your Teeth" EP Review

Losing people you care about is really hard, and losing bands you care about is nothing to sneeze at either. In Please Kill Me, top flight rock and roll fan Bebe Buell was reduced to tears upon finding out that "Wave" was gonna be her friend Patti Smith's last record. She recalls, "I was like, "I don't want this to be her last record." I was more adolescent about my feelings about rock and roll. To me it was an incredible loss; I considered it a death in the family. Maybe they thought it was just the last record - "Big deal, I'm gonna go be a housewife now" - but I took it very seriously." It's strange how people can make music that means so much to so many people and then emotionally detach from it to a point where they don't care about it or even like it. For one major instance, take Plow United, the best band to ever come out of these parts. Not long ago, I had the idea to do a Please Kill Me style oral history of the Wilmington/West Chester scene, which during the mid nineties was cohesive and strong, full of great bands and personalities. The first person I ran it by was Joel Tannenbaum, bassist from Plow, as they were the font from which we all sprang. He sensitively shot it down, saying that it wasn't a big enough audience to warrant a book. Now, Joel is a professional writer and certainly has to worry about things like an audience, but I am an artist who works in the medium of words, and audience is the last thing on my mind when constructing art. In another instance, Tit Patrol played a horrendous gig at Bam Margera's the Note in West Chester not long ago and the sound (which was not the problem) was run by Tom Martin, most famously of Third Year Freshmen and also the force behind Throttle Jockey, the New Dance Show, and a long, long time ago, Fondle (with Joel from Plow), and he may have written "So What?" by Pink. We discussed old times briefly and he disclosed that he has given away all his old punk stuff, Plow paraphernalia, etc... I on the other hand have mine organized and vaulted and displayed and archived, never to part. It reminds me of why I do what I do. It meant something to me and still does. People could pejoratively say that I am clinging to the past, but fuck them, I've made no less then six full length punk rock albums since the millennium turned, I am a Now Man. It's simply that I recognize the worth and will not dismiss it. It's funny, to this day I can't tell you exactly why Plow broke up. I mean, I know that they wanted to go out at their best, and they did, but who dunnit and why?

I talked to Arik Victor, proprietor of Creep Records, where at Plow's records where recorded and on which they were mostly released, in around 1998, when Plow was broken up and their swan song Narcolepsy was recorded and done except for front man Brian McGee's vocals. They were pressuring Brian into doing them and doing them well, up to the standards we had all come to expect from McGee's one of a kind raspy voice. I asked him why it was so hard to get him to do them (I was totally drooling for that damn record), and Arik conjectured that Brian knew once the vocals were done, so was Plow, and Brian was having a hard time dealing with that. He even joined Throttle Jockey and then Super Hi-Five, indicating to me that he was not done with the scene. Sean Rule, the greatest drummer of all time, had a whole big life outside the scene and Plow. He was a teacher at our high school and engaged to be married, but still, upon Plow's disbandment, Sean approached Huffer and myself (whose band Ninja Attak had run its course) to start a new outfit with him, and Power of IV played with great success for four more years. So, without pointing any fingers, it would seem that Joel was in the driver's seat of Plow's end game. Bands breaking up is inevitable, and now Plow will always be great, so perhaps they had all our best interests in mind, but it hurt, damn bad. I'm adolescent in my feelings about music as well.

This summer we lost three bands that admittedly were never in the Plow escalon (Who is? Tit Patrol, that's who! Ha ha!) but nonetheless it leaves me with a feeling of discontentment. First to go was the Impatients. I was there at the inception, five girls picking up instruments and learning how to play them as they became a band. They played a handful of gigs and recorded some demos, which I have still never heard. They had some songs that were sorta Ramones-y or Cramps-like, and some songs that were more Melvins-ish, but it all had a pretty unique sound, lots and lots of low end, soft tone on the guitars, all played slow and deliberate, with a strong and confident vocal that went from low and disinterested to a screeching yelp. Their break up was maybe a little nasty, and I won't go too into details I can't confirm, but I can say with confidence that there were true creative differences, no bullshit. I know Tanya on lead vocals wanted a darker less tonally based sound and Ally and Jill, the rhythm section, wanted to continue to pursue a brighter, more pop-oriented sound. I don't know what guitarists Shawna and Marta wanted. So, Tanya, Shawna, along with Chris Crust, Ivan Frankenstein, and Ian Thrash have pursued their sound in a new outfit called Doll Fangs that I haven't heard yet, and Ally and Jill started a new rock and roll act with Devo from Sexon Horses and Sam from Cave Bats (I think) called the Chandeliers, and I'm waiting for them to lay some tunes on me as well. The Impatients was fun while it lasted, but a real shame that they never got past the neo-natal stage of being a band. I was always especially impressed with the dedication that Ally has to the bass and can't wait to see her explode!

Next was my fave, high school skacore by S.H.O.T., aptly anagrammed Super Humans Over Taking, who I've raved about many a time here at Danthology. These guys had the look and the sound and a great fuckin' demo recorded at the Big Blue House. I will always remember all their great sets this summer (their "Beat It" cover was the best) and miss them playing. They played a great mix of thrashy hardcore featuring lots of high end, gain, and virtuoso guitar solos and scratchy ska punk with gruff vocals and a tight, fast, rudimentary, kick-ass rhythm section. Like JFA and OPIV had a baby. They have a very legitimate reason for breaking up/going on hiatus, as they started college this fall, at different colleges no less. This one gets me because I would have loved to see these dudes fulfill their massive potential, they have alot of talent and authenticity. Hopefully they'll keep up music and we'll get them back in some form, maybe even intact!

Recently I was told that Ba-Durr! was on hiatus. You know Ba-Durr!, they play as frequently as Tit Patrol. Now, I'll say it right here that they are not allowed to go on hiatus. I can't go on hiatus. Tom von Count can't go on hiatus. It is a logical impossibility. Can't stop, won't stop! I'm sure it's Connor and Alex, who are lazy. Chris Ba-Durr! also plays drums in Powerstance and now in Tragic Johnson!! He is not lazy.

Also in Connor Ba-Durr! news, I have in my hands the rough mix of his other band, the Adelies', first EP, entitled "Show Your Teeth." I'd call it "Show Yer Teeth", but that's just me. They recorded it with the ex-Big Blue House boys, relocated out of Richardson Park to Newark. I preface this review with all that other jive because the Adelies are in some state of flux. They told me they were breaking up, something about Dragonball Z, I believe. But really, I think it is that old chestnut of going to college. BUT - Tit Patrol is playing with them at the Spot on October 24, so how broke up can they be? Anyway, the Adelies (pronounced Uh-del-eez) play third wave style ska punk, big and chunky, smooth and spunky, and most importantly catchy.

This record starts out very well, just kick drum and the vocals come in with possibly their best hook - "My best friend is a bottle not a knife. I'll never fuckin' cut myself because I love my life. And if it gets so bad that I don't wanna live no more, I'll drink a lot of liquor, cause liquor is the cure." On the surface this a very well delivered call to hedonism, completely lacking that cheesy voice most bands this poppy use, it is gruffer and actually in the vein of Leatherface, but the verse, which is that standard quick change A-E-D progression that the ska boys love so much, reveals that the point isn't entirely the bottle, but "not a knife", it's an alternative to violence against self and other, maybe even anti-war. This a pretty good plan, but I've found through personal experience that weed would be a better drug for the occasion, an actual cure. After the initial hook they engage in some Misfits-style "whoas" in a pre-verse musical interlude. The verse is the first drop to clean ska upstrokes, back to the hook with full band and loud distorted guitars on chorus, back to the same verse repeated, chorus again, and then it gets interesting. The tempo changes into a skiffle beat and the guitars go clean and played straight up, and best of all the saxophone gets very pronounced. This execution and the simple fact that the break is in there at all set the Adelies apart. This is a great songwriting maneuver, the chords in that great "Runaround Sue" progression, and the sax feigning "Blue Moon". Then it drops back to the kick drum/vocal intro hook and repeats with everything huge, up and down chunk palm muting, and gang vocals, ending with the Misfits "whoas" and slow it down on the last one for a big ending. Great tune, well executed, giving the ska punk fan the standard stuff they want and upping the ante song-wise to round it out and make it truly unique.

The next song starts with a clean guitar riff, reminiscent of the Smugglers, actually, which is rather high praise for a riff. Then the rhythm guitars in 1-4-5 and whole band kick in and the rough mix guitars sound awesome, unrestrained. I'll miss them when they are tightened up in mixing. The only way to increase the intensity would be to jump from the half notes played on the ride cymbal to quarter notes, like my man Marky Ramone. I think that the drums suffer the most from being in a rough mix, though you can pick out some nice high-hat work throughout. The vocals come in next with that Leatherface sound, but much poppier, perhaps a nod to Midwest beard-core. It also has that Sid con Carnie, Super Hi-Five, struggling to stay in key and it totally works - sound. In fact the slice-of-life, passionately delivered vocals fall into that comparison well. "There's a full moon out tonight. Just like the last one. I swear I'm gonna make it mean something this time. Newark is quiet, it's summer. And we should treat it just the same." The chorus is complex but very poppy. I think that the rough and gruff Adelies sound keeps it from achieving that bittersweet Jimmy Eat World feel, and that is a good thing, and the main riff pulls it all together. The second chorus is followed by a serviceable solo, which in the roughs sounds like a less confident Vindictives solo, complemented well by the nearly-in-key hollering over it. It rolls out very well, the main riff over and over with "It's a warm night out tonight, just like the last one," chanted over it. Very good tune, these boys seem very mindful of tempo, but I personally would like to see them push it a little and get song times down by a few seconds. Upping the intensity of this number would push it over the edge.

Next is back into full ska mode with an intro that reminds me of Wrenfield. Oh you don't know Wrenfield? Great songs, bad attitude, Ninja Attak used to play with them alot in the mid-nineties. Mike Cruz, Ninja Attak's drummer sat in with them and Mike Biankawanka was the songwriter/guitarist/singer. When I wasn't into drinking Natty Ice, Mike C. found a kindred soul with Mike B. who was not as cool as he thought, perhaps the greatest cardinal sin in the Bible of Dan. But, their songs were really, really good, and this intro reminds me thoroughly of them. It is also the first track on the disc with lead vocals from Connor and lots and lots of sax. Contemplative and poppy, catchy and very smooth. The pre/post-chorus is just harmonized "whoas", but the actual chorus is sweetly heartbreaking. It ends with Connor singing, in "na-nas", the main lead guitar hook, and after the music ends, Connor does a couple more sarcastically soulful "na-nas" and you can hear the band laughing. I hope that stays in, nice little ska love song.

Next is my favorite Adelies song live, as it starts with very upbeat drums and a clean tone riff, which again is very Wrenfield-esque. (I can make you a tape, live from Mike Cruz's basement.) I think the thing that does it is the use of major thirds... yeah I know about music, chump. Then the distorted rhythm doubles the riff before dropping to a half-time stall for the first chord of the verse pattern, which is something like G-Em-C, as seen on the new Riverdale’s in "Rocketship X-M" or the Headies "Teenage Heartbeat"... awesome progression. The chorus is my favorite Adelies thing. It's the main riff played repeatedly with the three Adelies vocalists harmonizing downwardly with each other over three bars til it looks like their gonna pass out and relieved by a series of "heys!" It is beautiful and effective, and they do it great, but this is the only point of the record where "tightening the screws" could be a good thing. It is a showpiece chorus and could be a hit, so nailing it isn't bad. But the point of rock and roll or its derivatives is not perfection and the sound comes across very well. After the second time through they drop into a very Jimmy Eat World breakdown for a couple of seconds but retrieve the Adelies sound with the sax and ska-stroked rhythm before one last big chorus and out. Really good song, but I just realized: needs more bass! Where you at Connie?

The last song on this five-songer starts with another great progression. That is a key to the Adelies, they certainly don't rest on standard progressions you've heard before a million times, nor do they just throw chords together for the sake of being unique. I can see them playing with it til it gets right. The progression here is almost old fashioned, and the sax helps with that classic feel. Then it hits with a quick breakdown with "hup-hup" and that tongue roll that all the ladies love. Then straight up third wave style verses with Connor vocals, full on chorus, and back to the breakdown, and repeat. Then a real-deal slowed down ska bridge with sensitive guitar work and great horn, building in tempo back to the chorus and out.

Overall I am really impressed and into this record. It's modern yet reminds me of mid-nineties styles that are still not just very good, but what people should be doing. The only drawbacks to having early edition rough mixes is that after some fine tuning I could probably hear more of what the vocals are doing, pick out more lyrics, and have a better grasp on the rhythm section, but that is neither here nor there, because the Adelies have really good songs. That's the important thing. If they were played on trashcans and cigar box guitars, they'd still be good. Each one has a hook and though reminiscent, is not reliant on any other tune, very original and sentimental yet tough. I for one hope that this is not the last record I get from these boys... and Ba-Durr! should record too. Lazy.

The Adelies minus Justin on Sax... where's my man at?

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