Monday, April 04, 2005



The whole ‘bands I know getting all caps to alert the reader to an even more opinionated and less objective review than usual’ thing doesn’t even apply in this case. Goes well beyond that. Garrison started right when I moved to Boston- I was around for most of the records, their stories, progression. This is the weirdest review I’ve had to write so far.

Okay, so: the demo came out first, was later re-released by Espo as a 7” (minus ‘Untitled,’ which shows up again later on the ‘Bend’ CD.) I remember a palpable excitement about the demo tape- everyone who heard it was way into it and ready for more. Local shows went over well. A demo mailed to the record label resulted in ‘The Bend Before The Break’- by that time, ‘Serious Heavy Drama’ and ‘Harlow’ were both in heavy rotation at shows. Head-scratching on the part of the label (and, for that matter, the kids)- the need to put a name on music to make it easier to file away. Whatever it was called, their particular band of rambunctious, splintering guitar rock, everyone knew to go ‘learn to struggle’ when the music dropped out (well, almost everyone.) One of the things that always endeared me to the band was that they drew on such a wide range of musical styles, influences that I could occasionally detect/pick out, but still managed to reduce everything down to cohesiveness. The first EP was varied, with focus, if that makes any sense- a hell of an opening salvo that appealed to a bunch of different cross-sections of kids.

It’s probably because I grew up watching the Sox- I’ll always root for the underdog. So, having said that, ‘A Mile In Cold Water’ continues to be my favorite Garrison record- I think that song for song, it’s just as good as anything they ever did, though it wasn’t until later that they started to release albums, not records- more on this in a few paragraphs. The songs, for the most part, are little gems, well-written and played, and more varied than anything prior. ‘After The Fight’ is a prototypical barnburner, perfect to start a record or a set with (much in the same mold as ‘Recognize an Oppurtunity’ on ‘Be A Criminal.’) There’s a few songs where Joe sounds like he’s sending morse code messages to sad aliens via guitar (‘Selective Hearing Loss’ and ‘Our Mild Scoliosis’) and another, ‘Is That A Threat?’, which sounds like a fight song for a college marching band, such is the swing. The two biggest winners are ‘Fuel,’ a state of the union hometown lament, and ‘The Dumbest Angel,’ played in 5/4, which, if asked, I will still cite as my favorite Garrison song. If there’s any complaint I have about ‘A Mile In Cold Water,’ it’s that the record doesn’t always feel very whole- a collection of songs, sure, and good ones. The lack of cohesion, though, makes things feel occasionally scattered.

I admit that I was a little skeptical upon hearing that ‘Be A Criminal’ was a concept record about, well, being a criminal. A concept record, eh? Gotta give it to them, though- ‘Be A Criminal’ is the band’s most cohesive, complete and focused (focused focused) recording. The song titles all blend together for me- they chart the progression of a criminal act from start to finish, from ‘Recognize An Oppurtunity’ to ‘Accept What You’ve Done, Aceept Who You Are.’ (The practical result of the titles being as such is that I don’t really know songs by name- just as like ‘The crime is fear song’ or whatever.) There’s not a lot of tinkering going on, not a lot of stylistic change or variance over the course of the record’s 28-ish minutes of running time- there’s a detectable trajectory, without as much need (or, for that matter, space) to experiment. Not a second is wasted- the economy is staggering. Much ass is kicked- as I mentioned in the last paragraph, ‘Recognize An Oppurtunity’ is a bombastic intro track. The ‘Not! What! You! Need!’ bit in ‘Know The Locale,’ a song that features great vocal harmonies and a somewhat slow pace, still kills me every time I hear it, as does the screaming outro of ‘Cover The Tracks With Cash,’ which always struck me as the angriest song on the record. ‘Catch Your Breath And Have A Cigarette’ is the first hint of what’s to come later on- appropriation and recontextualization. And bonus points, always, for putting the bit that goes ‘We will not last much longer’ repeated ad infinitum in the dead center of the record. Sox fan or no, this record is fairly undeniable in its breadth of vision and nuance.

‘The Model’ and ‘The Silhouette,’ sister albums, can be listened to individually or back-to-back to form a whole long player (‘The Silhouette’ can be listened to over and over again with no discernable break because it begins and ends with the same sounds, effectively looping into itself.) The two records are very much different from each other, or at least appear to be when listened to initially. Anyway, ‘The Model’ is the polished side of the production. Some of the catchiest stuff the band ever wrote- ‘The Sound’ has the hook that goes on and on and on and on and you just can’t help getting your lip caught and getting the damn song in your head and having it get stuck there (the function of a good pop song.) Far more straightforward and clean than the previous Garrison stuff, which makes for an interesting counterpoint in ‘The Silhouette.’ If the records are listened to back-to-back, the relative sonic slickness of ‘The Model’ serves to make the production on ‘The Silhouette,’ which is much more on par with the earlier stuff, sound even more jarring and visceral. ‘Come On Die Young! (No, Seriously)’ is a hilarious two-minute fuck you complete with a gibberish/scat breakdown that’s right up there with the rest of the Rev catalogue (the silliness and brevity of the song point towards Gay For Johnny Depp.) ‘God Is Not On Our Side’ features a cool organ intro, and is later reworked on the last track of the album, ‘The Closer.’ The reworking picks up on the thread of recontextualization that was dangled in ‘Be A Criminal’- taking things and spinning ‘em askew to create something new. It’s interesting to note, in retrospect, the path that leads away from straight guitar rock towards the dense synth-hop dance mutation that is the Campaign For Real Time.


Mix Tape: ‘Harlow,’ ‘The Dumbest Angel’


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