Saturday, September 18, 2010

90 Day Men - "Dialed In" from the CD [it [is] it] critical band

"Dialed In," as with much of the album it's culled from, is like a transformative event, a post-rock baptismal in Big Muddy, the baptism an apt metaphor for the newness of the music, and the Big River an apt location for that transcendence, considering the band is originally from St. Louis.

Check THIS out, the Mississipi River, Brian Case and thou waist up in it, and Cormac McCarthy of all people watching from the sloping banks. And how about this: Let's romanticize bordertowns before we split for Chicago and add a keyboard player.

Like some of the other great albums out there, [it [is] it] critical band catches its makers on the way to somewhere else. 90 Day Men in common with all their Slintian brethren had always been angular and disjointed and purposefully complex, but the addition of keyboardist Andy Lansangan to the band's lineup for critical created a sound like none other anywhere, including--regretfully enough to this mind--the band's own later work.

Lansangan's contributions to [it [is] it] critical band remind me of Larry Young's to Miles Davis' Bitches Brew; the Fender Rhodes omnipresent, even, contradictorily enough, when it's not even there, comps and loops and tone clusters, spongefuls of sound that do more to define and direct the aura of the music than the supposed lead instruments.

The result of it all as the electric piano globules marry themselves to the stark knife edge guitars and Case's mumbled talk-to-his-shoes delivery is truly unique; if everyone and his brother ended up copying what Larry Young brought to Miles, no-one had the ability or the temerity to copy what Lansangan brought to 90 Day Men. It sounds distinctive to this day, and will, I suspect, continue to do so.

But the way it turned out, I don't think the electric piano was really Lansangan's first instrument. On follow up albums To Everybody and Panda Park, his acoustic piano melodies would come to direct the band, bringing to mind Kurt Weill and '70's glam and perhaps a poor man's version of Enoesque prog. And while some of the band's later stuff is tremendous (dig "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life"), some of the experimentation, particularly on Panda Park, is truly misguided. "Silver and Snow," with its flat vocal modulations in the key of Leonard Cohen, may be the worst song I know of by a band that I otherwise like. You're seriously unsure that anything this bad could have been meant seriously. But, you know, even when they were at their greatest and at their most innovative, 90 Day Men were hardly known for their sense of humor.

So, unfortunately, I suspect that "Silver and Snow" was intended without irony.

Not all of Panda Park sucks so hard. But I'm forced to say that most of it causes you to miss the album they made where they sounded like no-one else this side of the Mississippi, or that, the band talking straight to you, how we could see what would happen, and how--if you could just remember their name--it was supposed to change your life.

File under: a range of frequency ratios which sweep across the audible spectrum in a band, within which two notes will sound like they are fusing into one rough sound