Former dB founder Chris Stamey has built a reputation
as one of Southern jangle pop's founding fathers. His early work with
Mitch Easter (who mixed this record) helped define the genre.
Over the years, he has toured with Alex Chilton and Bob
Mould (among others) and produced records by Whiskeytown,
Yo La Tengo and Squirrel Nut Zippers. Let's just say
that if your band came out of North Caroline, chances are pretty good
that Stamey had something to do with it. Here, Stamey teams up with
the members of Yo La Tengo for a record that was basically recorded
in a weekend. It's a collection of pop tunes that give a heavy nod
to the late Sixties, both sonically and in the political lyrics. Another
interesting facet of this record is that the first half contains cover
tunes, while originals round out the set.
After the explosive noise burst of the introductory "Conspiracy
Theory", Stamey and the Tengos bust into a version of The
Yardbirds' "Shapes Of Things". The ghost of the late
Sixties is resurrected in tone and in political comment. Following
this number, we get a cover of Television's classic "Venus".
On this track the Yo La Tengo influence pours out the speakers, taking
an already alluring tune and kicking the shimmer quality up a notch.
This tune, and the cover of Tift Merritt's "Plainest Thing",
were done in one take, but you'd never know it by the sheer quality.
Politics comes to a head again with covers of "Politician"
and the charged "Compared To What". This Vietnam-era tune
holds as much weight today as it did back in the time it was written,
with its stab at the President "getting the war he wanted".
It even includes a guitar solo worthy of firing up a joint and sitting
in the black-light room. Stamey's playing is spot on, and the Tengos
also prove their versatility on these tracks. These songs in and of
themselves would have made a great EP, but
Stamey and the gang take it a step further in the second half of
the record. "The Summer Sun" (also done in one take) is
a, do I dare say, summery blast of mid-Sixties jangle pop. Think if
the Beach Boys were from Myrtle Beach instead of California.
Stamey plays all the instruments in the instrumental "Come On"
which picks up right where "Summer Sun" leaves off. It's
two-and a half minutes of sugar coated fun. "Sleepless Nights"
(and the reprise "Sleepless Nights Again") are the only
places where things really slow down to the mellow vein. Musically,
these dreamy pieces conjure images of chilling out on a springtime
evening with the girl you dig by your side. The crowning achievement
on the record is the ten and a half minute "McCauley Street".
It starts as a timeless folk-inspired ditty (another nod to the Sixties),
but before you know it you are caught in a swirly whirlwind straight
off of a Yo La Tengo record. Ira Kaplan's trademark thick swirling
guitar melds with Stamey's noise to create a beautiful cacophony that
sucks you in and won't let you go. And to ease you down from the trip,
it resolves back into that folk inspired refrain. "Desperate
Man" invokes a bit of the swamp rock groove that evolved from
the Sixties, and just to change things up at the end, Stamey brings
in bluegrass purveyors Chatham County Line for some pickin'
and whistlin' on the closing "Dr. Stangelove's Assistant".
Think skiffle music with banjos and mandolin over Stamey's fuzzy guitar
noise. It'll leave you with a smile.
While Stamey tips the hat mighty heavily towards the Sixties, he
uses it as a starting point to expand his pop prowess, and doesn't
use it as a platform to merely re-tread the past. It is easy to
see how the Southern pop mentality merged with the blast from the
past urgency to create a unique pop gem that keeps its eyes on the
future while keeping its feet firmly rooted in rock and roll tradition.
1. Conspiracy Theory
2. Shapes Of Things
5. Plainest Thing
6. Compared To What
7. The Summer Sun
8. Come On
9. Sleepless Nights
10. McCauley Street (Let's Go Downtown)
11. Desperate Man
12. Sleepless Nights Again
13. Dr. Strangelove's Assistant
14. V.O.T.E. PSA
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