By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
"C'MERE," A MAN'S voice beckons, whispering, in the dreamy opening of Imperial Teen's Seasick. "No, no, no, no... closer." It's a seduction, a standard rock & roll come-on. Except that it's followed by a song about sickness, rashes, chicken hawks, and black eyes. In this particular world, love is more than a bitch--it's a cesspool of the sexual power and control struggles that have always been at the crooked heart of rock meaning. That Seasick also reads--subtly--as one of the queerest alternarock LPs ever is almost beside the point. As with recent releases by Team Dresch and Sleater-Kinney, Seasick (on a major label, no less) hitches unimpeachable music to universal emotions, and in the process turns hetero rock assumptions inside out with more authority than either the blow job odes of Pansy Division or the castration anthems of Tribe 8.
That Imperial Teen is led by Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum (whose name I'd never really, you know, noticed before) is only the first surprise here. Made up of two boys and two girls, the group makes chiming, almost bubble-gummy pop that draws a lot from the Velvet Underground--not just musically but lyrically, both in poetic voice and their Dante-esque ventures into the sexual demimonde. This being the '90s, though, what was once Underground is now pop, and so in writing songs about shooting heroin, selling your body (literally or metaphorically), or flipping through sexual roles like one would a closet full of clothes, Imperial Teen know not to bother with false dramatics. "Butch is pink and butch is blue," the boys and girls sing in unison on a Rev-ready pop song, "You like strawberries, I like you."
Whether Imperial Teen will go on to rule the world remains to be seen. But for now Seasick will suffice for those of us in search of non-straight rock & roll role models with stories worth telling. "I'm looking for a family that listens to my songs," sings Roddy Bottum near the record's end. We're all ears, brother. (Will Hermes)
Give It Up For...
NATIONAL DYNAMITE HAVE been visible on the local scene for almost two years, but they seem to inhabit a parallel plane where songcraft is rigorous and traditional pop structures feel as fresh as a new crush. They're not shooting for groundbreaking originality, nor are they merely rehashing old material without admitting their musical debts. Instead, they're part of an expanding lineage of bands both here and abroad who still believe the aesthetics of '60s and '70s pop can be relevant, exciting, sexy, and important.
A friend of mine who was looking for an argument once claimed that rock fans could be separated into Stones people and Beatles people. National Dynamite fall hard into the latter category, in part because they've clearly listened to the the Fab Four a lot, but also because, at heart, their music deals with vulnerability, melancholy, and the pleasure of translating these sentiments into smart, sweet pop songs. Their debut album's a treasure box of oblique and overt tributes to power pop past. But whenever frontman Benno Nelson puts on a rock-star pose (which he does often), there's a chuckle behind it. For these boys, most of the time, a guitar is just a guitar.
Take the swinging opener, "Sister Lovers." A shameless anthem/homage to Big Star and the Beatles, yes, but not a rip-off, nor a copy of a copy: Its rousing pulse and Nelson's naked vocals distinguish it from the plodding of fellow pure pop devotees Teenage Fanclub, or the hook-lifting, skinny-hip posturing of Oasis. The album's also a hell of a lot more affable than the aforementioned Brit darlings, even at its most melancholy ("Sunday Blue," "Lazy One"), when the ennui of a hundred late-summer afternoons seems to simmer between the guitar strings.
All of which is not to say that the band can't rock. They do, and at their best, as on "Sister Lovers" and "The Question of How," it's with the curving, wide-open hooks of Hunky Dory-era Bowie. Macho rock seems either a bore to them, or an uncharted land where they tiptoe along the edges, sometimes flirting with an interesting way to say "Fuck you." "Mean Streak" is a good shot, with witty lines ("Got a smile as thin as a papercut") and a Bowie-ish yelp. But the country-rock "Work Song" takes it too far--it feels harried and threatens to break the album's momentum.
Still, this is an elegant, self-possessed album.
A line printed on the CD asks, "doesn't it make you feel better?" Sort of a presumptuous question, but the answer is yes, it does. (Kate Sullivan)
National Dynamite perform May 24 at 7th St. Entry.
Everything is Wrong
(Non-Stop DJ Mix
by Evil Ninja Moby)
Mute Records (import)
A GOOD FRIEND of mine despises remixes with a passion. "Why can't they just spend all that extra time and money on recording brand new songs?" she asks. Obviously she's no dance music aficionado, and probably no lover of Moby's latest 26-track, 2-CD remix album. Excuse me, but remixes are new songs--in some cases, only the title remains from the original.