I promise to offer a full review of the Grant Lee Phillips album. Quick review: “It’s really, really good, go buy it.”
A funny thing happened to me on my way to GLP adulation though: I found a new, different record to capture my heart for the time being, and I’m gonna write about that. So there.
Somewhere around 1986 or so, the word “pop” began to take on negative connotations. I can kinda guess how it started, but rather than go into that at the moment, I think instead there’s more worth in mentioning that bands like Let’s Active, Game Theory, The dB’s, The Primitives, XTC, Squeeze, Ultra Vivid Scene were once the hippest thing going. We’re talking here about artists who played a certain sort of music where melody and hook were the driving force and where craftsmanship in a song was so tangible you could almost touch it. We won’t even mention their forebears, folks like Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, and Joe Jackson (the Holy Trinity of angry young British pop stars of the 1970′s).
So what happened? Hey, making lasting work in this genre isn’t nearly as easy as it maybe sounds. A gorgeous hook and brilliantined chorus walks a narrow line where stepping over into cliche and lightweight and insipid and (worst of all) dull lurks as a danger that even the greatest of those heroes had trouble avoiding. And so sadly, the great pop bands of the middle 1980′s gave way to lesser lights like the Connells, or Trip Shakespeare, or The Blake Babies/Antenna…and soon Britpop happened along and folks like Blur, Oasis, and Radiohead were not only making more interesting records than any of that, they were also making them with more challenging elements, and pretty soon “pop” had become to serious music fans what “liberal” became to politics in the 1990′s.
Let me get to the point now, finally. There’s this band in Southern California called Everybody Else. They’re three impossibly adorable-looking moppets with their layered long hair and prettyboy looks….and look at ‘em on their Myspace page, sitting astride BMX bikes. Awwww, ain’t they cute?
I gather that Los Angeles and environs have remained something of a last beachhead for mediocre powerpop. Bands like Rooney and Phantom Planet and Maroon 5 still are able to find an audience, and on first blush you’d sort of automatically file Everybody Else right in alongside them, which is exactly what I did before even giving a listen to “Meat Market”, the leadoff song on EE’s self-titled debut.
“Meat Market” opens with a fairly obvious two-chord melody and I’ve already heard this song a hundred times and I’m already having trouble caring…
…and then the song gets going, and not only is the verse melody a killer, but it’s sung with a verve that recalls something painfully obscure but something that certain folks reading this blog are gonna go “hellyeah” to: basically “Meat Market” sounds like it was recorded in that first, memorable Scruffs session. The vocals have that Lennon Doing “Twist And Shout” quality to ‘em, and I’m totally hooked, especially when they drop a nifty middle eight into the fray, and then a killer coda in the final chorus. First listen, and I’m changing my thoughts on these fellows already.
Things keep going well through the first couple of songs and then we get another moment of sublime wonderfulness, the song “I Gotta Run”. Sounding like a wonderful cross of vintage Nick Lowe (the minor key melody in the chorus is all “Cruel To Be Kind”) and Rick Springfield (the major key chorus sounds like it could’ve been a bigger hit than “Jesse’s Girl”), “Run” has an awe-inspiring middle 8 that perhaps only a handful of artists writing music today would even think of maybe writing.
As great as “I Gotta Run” is, it can’t prepare the senses for the onslaught of “In Memoriam”. Starting off with a synthy, goofball funk syncopated beat, it builds through the verse into a chorus you can feel coming on like an avalanche. The hook is so obvious and over the top, this could be boy-band music, but it’s so damn catchy and instantly-memorable that I’ve come around to thinking that I really, really hope “In Memoriam” becomes the hit that it deserves to be. When “Born To Do” comes crunching out of the box right after “Memoriam”, I realize that I’m hearing one of the sunniest, most wonderful debut albums in recent memory. More to the point, I decide that I need to know more about this band.
Checking the credits, it seems Everybody Else is fronted by a dude named Carrick Moore Gerety. Why does that name sound familiar….oh holy hell, waitaminute! Carrick and his brother Finn had an amazing Boston-area band called The Push Kings back in the middle-late 1990′s, and counted folks like Pavement and Spoon among their most ardent fans (Malkmus wrote the liner notes on their debut, in fact.) The guy on drums and vocals is a fellow named Mikey McCormack, who was part of a fairly legendary ’90′s band from Richmond, Waking Hours.
And so it’s time to reconsider: Everybody Else aren’t bubblegum-chewing, braces-wearing teenyboppers by any means. They’re indie scene veterans all the way, with pedigrees going back over ten years. Not only that, but Gerety (the principal songwriter and singer here) studied painting at Harvard. There it is, then: Everybody Else not only has a pedigree that separates them from a horde of inferior dorks and geeks doing mediocre service in this genre, but they’ve also got gravitas. In fact, once you get past the insane catchiness of this record and go back and start to listen to the lyrics, there’s a depth here that is completely unexpected but which once you know the background makes total sense.
Here’s what’s so great about the Everybody Else record. There are a lot of bands out there–many whom I hold in high and great esteem–making records where the experimentalism and minimalism and envelope-pushing are incredibly overt and done with an obvious nod towards Artistic Statement. Everybody Else crashes the party like musical Roy Lichtensteins, making an even deeper artistic statement by slyly reveling in the tighter constraints of their melody-bound world.
But you don’t need to know any of that crap. What you need to know is that there’s nothing uncool about digging these modern-day Archies.
Check out some music, yo: