Pop music is more genuinely democratic than, say, the coming presidential election. And the press that covers it--damn us if you will--is closer to "fair" than, for instance, the local media's treatment of the Nicollet Mall protesters. Still, there's a deep, mean streak of misplaced social Darwinism in the worn-out old construction "I never heard of them; they must not be any good."
Remember that Darwin himself loathed "survival of the fittest," and fans of noncorporate music similarly read the "never heard of them" equation as a convenient dismissal impersonating theory, one that imagines a sports arena--a fair testing ground for talent--where a casino stands. Fact is, most of us are doomed to root for perfectly fit bands that won't survive for long, much less thrive, and we'll end up being validated only when our taste is co-opted, usually after the fact. (Did I feel sick or giddy recognizing that Minutemen song in the new Volvo commercial? Answer: I downed some wine and wondered for hours whether the ad on this page exists to distribute my words, or vice versa.)
Now that George Hurley's drums fill the deadening air between Survivor segments (which is itself essentially Darwin-on-steroids), it's no insult to imply that local bands might sell a few cars of their own if given the chance, and no insult to predict they never will. Two of them, at least, won't survive the week. Lifter Puller were so bracing live, they once inspired Joe Strummer to babble that they were "the corona corona," whatever that means, yet their barely announced gig on July 29 (more on that next week) was their goodbye to the world. The even less-known Mollycuddle, meanwhile, will end a six-year stint of what I'll call cranky dreampop this weekend, with two farewell gigs and the release of their own entry into that most unfortunate local trend, the "breakup album." The title? Paved With Good Intentions.
"You realize you're not young anymore and it's not new to you," muses Sara Aase, joining fellow singer-guitarist Tommy Kim at the south Minneapolis Pizza Lucé to discuss why the end of their band is nigh. Though Aase, with her cropped bangs and Sleater-Kinney tee, hardly seems older than the age she was when she met Kim (24), both playfully hammer a new theme: "We're old," says the bespectacled Kim, who dresses like the English professor he'll become when he nabs his Ph.D. "And we don't see any money. Ever."
At it happens, Kim is leaving town to finish an English dissertation that explores the post-civil-rights nostalgia that minorities feel for the segregated but cohesive worlds of the Negro Leagues and pre-Sixties Chinatown. He sees punk as a similar source of dubious wistfulness, and Aase duly applies this model to the band itself.
"The weird thing about nostalgia is that you get to pretend that people back then weren't dissatisfied," she says, bemused. "I mean, everybody's basically dissatisfied, otherwise there would be no progress."
Best to leave nostalgia to Mollycuddle fans, like those 12 kids who sang along inside a hot, otherwise empty room in Lexington, Kentucky--the recent last, hastily organized gig of Mollycuddle's last, hastily organized tour. (Those kids were further proof that college radio fills the gap left by a major-dominated distribution system.)
Neither nostalgia nor bitterness seem to infect Good Intentions (Guilt Ridden Pop), an album that rather poignantly describes an assortment of parting glances while taking musical and creative leaps forward. Buttressed by the quick-slow-slow lock step of bassist Guy Lawhead and drummer Judd Hildreth (of Valet), the band throbs more than ever on the tension of its opposing vocal poles: Aase playing the soothing and resigned pop mama, Kim the agitated and desperate punk da. (Their slow-burn cover of "U Mass" was the best cut on the recent Pixies, Fuckin' Die! tribute.) Though Kim and Aase aren't a couple, it's no surprise that, like their heroes Yo La Tengo, they seem to draw a disproportionate number of same to their shows.
In fact, Mollycuddle has always had the doomed, frail chemistry of a relationship conjured more by instinct than sense. After an admittedly ambling start, they served notice that they'd tightened the knots in their stomach a bit with their dourly titled 1998 disc It's Not You, It's Me. This was an album of indie-pop comfort food that tweaked the genre's verities like mom finding new spices for tuna surprise. (Check the still-affecting ode to lonely Law & Order viewing, "The Ballad of Jill Hennessy.") They began unraveling a bit with "Miracles," on last year's The Best Place for You EP, singing, "I can't wait for a miracle/Coming through the stereo," which was perhaps their most hummable--and most prophetic--line.
Now Aase begins Good Intentions by crooning, "Hipster bands in old-man bars/Somewhere else is another me/Somewhere else I'd rather be," as the easygoing guitar distortion is whipped to a lather by producer Jon Tranberry. The band later closes with a tune called "Old and Out of Touch," the title perhaps echoing an old line from British riot grrrls Huggy Bear, who are themselves probably now described by it. On the seven songs in between, the band stretches its unassuming template, most of all on the lush acoustic-guitar expanses of "Autohagiography" and the plunky, stripped-down confessional of "New Mexico Road Trip," where Kim softly chides, "I guess it's time to settle down, I guess it's time to quiet down."
On the patio outside the pizza place, the sky begins falling in on our interview, and the singers are the last to notice the raindrops. "There are a lot of bands doing all the right things," says Aase, unfazed. "But it doesn't seem to be enough. And I don't know what the answer is."
Suddenly a tornado siren rings out, and we pick up our salads to scurry inside. "We're gonna die," jokes Kim. Natural selection is a bitch.
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