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
Half Dead and Dynamite
CRAIG FINN OF Lifter Puller and Mike Wisti of the Rank Strangers have a lot in common. The bands have released new albums recorded in their basements, both good enough to leave you stunned by the potential of basement-studio recordings. Second, these guys are both way too smart to be playing in rock bands, but way too twisted and obsessive to do anything about their lots in life. And if, as one Rank Strangers song puts it, "Girls Don't Make Passes (at Boys Who Wear Glasses)," these records suggest they should start.
Then again, these aren't standard-issue nerds. The Strangers look good in western-style shirts, and wear their Kinks records on their sleeves. Lifter Puller are chaps in slacks with an art-damaged punk disc that would sell as much at Extreme Noise as it does at Garage D'Or. Half Dead and Dynamite is Lifter Puller's clearest, best effort, and an improvement on their debut, which was too sonically muddled to provide a forum for Finn's warped mumbles and lyrical stunners. On Half Dead, Finn is a wry and bizarre punk poet, relating obscure tales of high-school depravity, boredom, and violence that unravel as teenage escape songs written from a semi-female perspective. There are also a bunch of homoerotic lyrics here ("Took the hand job at the hardware store...") and more cleverly placed F-words and geographic name checks than you'd get from a hip-hop record. "Nassau Coliseum" slowly, beautifully builds to a crescendo of place names ("and in New Jersey... in the Twin Cities... and on the West Coast"). You're bracing for the final destination, and jarred when it comes: "I wanna fuck you/I wanna fuck you," Finn leers.
Equally headfucking is my favorite Lee's Liquor Lounge moment of 1997: the Rank Strangers covered Blur's throwaway "Song 2"--that "woo! woo!" number--with the lyrics to "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and they made it sound like something off of Exile on Main Street, thus desecrating all three sources. Indeed, their song "Mystery Spot" begins with the lead riff from "Magical Mystery Tour" before exploding in its own whirl of sexual passion and paranormal references--Wisti's voice approximating that of a preprofessional Pirner. It's unbelievable that no other Minneapolitan rocker but Wisti has thought to name a song "The Gray Nineties," and it's a shame that said anthem can expect but two more years of relevance.
Then there's the whole matter of this target the album title alludes to; that's where we really get into the premillennial tension. The title track is a hyper-anxious anthem for "a nuclear age" that sounds like a blend of indie rock and the Book of Revelation. "To the east I heard the refrain of a sad song played by an unsigned band/To the south I saw dust rising from marching feet under high command." Wisti spends the song training in on his proverbial "target," before his own tragic punch line--"The target is me/The target is we"--sets off the end of the world (and the CD) in a gloriously repetitive four-minute rock out.
Hardly companion pieces, these two records share a kindred smartness that's necessary for the survival of their subgenres. Decide for yourself which record best fits your social circle. Or, dare to be different.