I Am What I'm Not
[Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this story; see end of article.]
You should know that despite their apparently biblical band name, Malachi Constant are not Christian rockers. On this point the four band members are clear. Not that they have anything against Christians, they'll have you know. Or Christian rock, more specifically. Well, maybe against the latter. Personally, that is: Other bands are welcome to try it out, sure. Why not? But Malachi Constant are not Christian rockers.
You should know that "Malachi" is pronounced mah-luck-eye and not like those brothers who tried to crunch Fonzie in the demolition derby on that one episode of Happy Days.
And you should know that despite their apparently stolid band name, Malachi Constant are not constant.
When the band members discuss their music, their opinions are offered, then contradicted, and there's always one more point to be clarified.
And so, while we're listing those things that Malachi Constant are not, they say they're also not "a Macalester band"--whatever that might be exactly. True, singer/guitarist Carl Wedoff and guitarist Ben Hecker attended school there, and the band played its first show in the basement of a Macalester dorm. But that doesn't explain why definitively unmatriculated band members Sean Harrison and Alex McCown were included on the college's Web site as alumni, Class of 2001. This amuses Wedoff greatly. He says, "Sean, you saved yourself, like, a hundred thousand dollars."
We're doing this interview in the vinyl section of Eclipse Records in St. Paul. If you go to Eclipse as often as you should, then you know that since sometime last year they've been keeping their vinyl in a separate room upstairs. If you're me, however, you don't know this, and so you wander around among the CDs waiting to meet Malachi Constant and glancing around nervously, and you look like a shoplifter. Which makes you feel doubly dumb because the CD cases are all empty.
Eventually, the band fetches me and takes me upstairs to a space that becomes a sort of clubhouse for them after hours. (Malachi Constant volunteer to keep the community-minded shoestring shop in business. When the store was still legally allowed to showcase live bands, the group was practically the Eclipse house band, performing almost weekly.) The band members gulp at Premiums and roam casually around the store. Oval is spinning on the turntable, a fact that, when it's time to transcribe quotes, will lead me to suspect that my trusty Radio Shack tape recorder is breaking down.
The curly-haired Wedoff speaks with an effusiveness that threatens to become mania. To his comrades' amusement, he reels off theories that inevitably dwindle toward a noncommittal "yeah, I don't know." Discussing how Malachi Constant cut an aural intake of "post-goth ambient" with swathes of REO Speedwagon and Styx, Wedoff talks about how post-rock pastiche is a matter of "choosing your clichés and trying to combine them in a fresh way." Then he slaps Yngwie Malmsteen on the turntable.
"[Our lyrics] are about how Republicans are stupid," he jokes, before launching into an earnest lament about the left's apathy. Which explains Wedoff's copy of the Nation on the couch. And the (lyricless) song called "Global Capitalism's Exploitation Breeds Poverty and Despair." True dat.
A few weeks after the Eclipse interview, as I try to summon some snappy, reductive, rock-writer phrase that will encapsulate Malachi Constant's music, along comes a helpful e-mail from Wedoff. "Malachi Constant is pretty much like your average young white guy poser-progressive band, but we sometimes try to sound like jazz music, and we are conscious of standard rock clichés."
That's a nicely self-deprecating summary of what the band's about. But the young St. Paul quartet, whose music would have been called post-rock by rags like this one at a more foolish moment in the past, is better than what Wedoff's summary might lead you to expect. Most good bands sound better than their capsule descriptions, after all. As Wedoff admits with the sort of candor that a more practiced interviewee tends to preface with "off the record": "We still kind of think of ourselves as a fake band. We're not very professional."
Lest this talk of fake rock give off images of the Hawaii Show or Flickerstick, let's quickly move on to Malachi Constant's highly accomplished new effort on Guilt-Ridden Pop, Zenith. The first track alone, entitled "The Spice of Life," veers into a number of different, complex "movements," as the classical folks call 'em. Each variation is set apart by an accomplished dynamic and rhythmic shift. The two-note bass-and-guitar pummel that kicks off that song could carry many hard rockers through to the chorus. The ruminative passage that follows could be the meat of a radio-ready introspective ballad. Quite real enough.
The remainder of the album is just as varied. At times the compositions break down into frenetic drum flurries and feedback cataclysms. Such moments of restrained anarchy, however, only go to highlight the carefully arranged superstructure of the other material. Harrison, Hecker, and McCown may defer to Wedoff in interviews, but the band operates as a unit, creating the sort of precision that retains a sense of improvisational adventure.
Apparently, however, Malachi Constant just don't think of themselves as, like, a real band. You know, the sorts of guys you thought of as being in real bands back when you were in high school, before you realized how many of the legends you idealized played for a dozen uninterested onlookers on their best night. In any case, this self-deprecation is integral to the charm of Malachi Constant. If you're going to take your music this seriously, you'd better be able to laugh at yourself.
After considering all of this, you should have a jumbled but strong sense of what Malachi Constant are about. But if not, I'll allow Wedoff the honor of concluding. His e-mail helpfully sums up our previous conversation:
what malachi constant's music is like: not christian.
norm coleman is horrifying.
christian rock indirectly affects everything the band does."
Now we've cleared that up.
Correction published April 24:
Owing to a reporting error, the original version of this story confused the roles of two members of Malachi Constant .Alex McCown plays drums. Ben Hecker plays guitar. The above version of the story reflects the corrected text. City Pages regrets the error.
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