"Don't get on a train and go to Portland, I think you already know what's out there..."
Midnight Reruns –
Admission time: I like drawing thin, fragile connections amongst all the music I love. I'm not describing the usual literal connections like lineage or credited-influence or common band members. No, this is more along the lines of a nebulous quasi-emotional web of sound that I can mentally follow from album to album and group to group. Imagine a magically intuitive Spotify which knew with absolute precision that if I listen to Steppenwolf then I'm going to be sonically transported to a Screaming Trees show I went to in nineteen ninety eight and which melted my brain into new shapes. For me there's a link between the sounds of these two bands and my response to those sounds, one that no app or program will ever offer or rival. It's wondrously individual to my experience of music and allows me to more fully engage with and enjoy the listening process.
I can't always make these connections despite my preference for them. I mean, I listened to Silver Sun Pickups for well over a year before I realized that they fit perfectly into the Smashing Pumpkins sized hole in my heart. Only much later, when I did the Google on "Silver Sun Pickups are Smashing Pumpkins" would I find 333,000 results confirming that everyone else in the world, including the band, was already aware of this comparison.
All things said, I don't really have a handle on where Midnight Reruns fits into my musical web. I don't even know where they fit into the greater metropolitan area network of obvious musical comparisons. There are definitely some Replacements here, maybe some Lemonheads and even a smidge of The Hold Steady. There are good bones to this group, solid underpinnings that make me relatively certain the band has a firm grasp on who they are and what music they play. I'm thinking (and hoping) they might linger in my mind for a year or so more, just like Silver Sun Pickups did... and I'll come right out and say that that's a very good thing indeed.
In the same way the latest Beck album captures the essence of the morning almost perfectly, this album brings the Summer (yes, with a capital "S") with it. I'm adamant that November was completely the wrong month for this albums release. November is a drab and gray time of pipe smoke and wool sweaters, where you find yourself shoegazing along to Iron and Wine and psyching up for a month of saccharine Christmas carols. To expect this hot bomb of lush and sweaty jams to be dropped like a burning stocking full of coal smack dab in the month of November? Madness! This is pure and uncut sunshine music people! Barbeque smoke and broken lawn chairs and cheap sunglasses music. A late-night fire-pit and Pabst and noise complaints from the neighbors kind of album that lodged firmly in the pleasure center of my brain right next to whiskey, Cuban cigars, and sleeping in on a weekday.
The band opens with their foot firmly on the accelerator, pushing the driving percussion right up alongside their big fuzzy guitar lines, stringing loosely worked melody into moments of tightly wound precision. Thankfully, the band doesn't seem interested in pigeonholing themselves stylistically. They can (and will) transition from a sleepy minute long instrumental to a ninety second jam naturally, riding their own vibe like a broken down Datsun truck, barreling forwards with nowhere to go and everywhere to be. My fifteen-year-old self would be soooo into these guys, big time! It's helpful that my thirty-something self hasn't lost that impeccable musical taste.
The first track "Going Nowhere" is accurately titled in the sense that the band seems fully invested in where they are from. As much as I'd like them to "come out to Portland" I easily glean that the Milwaukee scene has provided all of the intangible inspiration the album is drawn from. I don't know what's in the water in Milwaukee, or if it's even drinkable, but these guys represent their hometown in the best of ways.
Despite its title, "King of Pop" is not, as far as I can tell, a love song to Michael Jackson. It might be a love song to Cheap Trick though, and a great one at that. The sing-along chorus is reminiscent of early Weezer, and without the benefit of Ric Ocasek producing it. On "Chewing Ice" I get this creeping feeling that I'm listening to the intro to a Burger King breakfast sandwich commercial. Which would be pretty awesome. The song plays like a permanent crescendo, every guitar line, every drum beat pushed into the overwhelmed fore-front of the song. It's as if whoever mixed this just pushed all the sliders as far up as they would go. Vocals? Ten. Bass? Ten. Ya know what, just set them all to ten! The militant, stomping, broadcast through a megaphone "T.V.Z." shares it's love of a fuzzy intro with Weezer's "Tired of Sex" (them again!), only sleazier and punched up. If there was a video for this song everyone would have handlebar mustaches, a 70's middle-part to their long and flowing golden hair, and they would all be rocking super-tight-fitted ringer shirts. Santana would definitely have a cameo if they could afford him. The keyboardist would be emphatically headbanging the entire time, hair flying willy-nilly. There would be flames and a smoke machine. On second thought, maybe this is the song Burger King would use. I know for certain that Jack in the Box would use it in a commercial. It's definitely the best song ending on the album!!!
"Grand Slam" is a drunken Issac Brock trying to write an Aerosmith song on a dare. The sense of oversharing, stream of consciousness, twitter feed rambling comes pouring through in the chorus, where the explanation holds a tenuous grip on relevance and slots snugly into excuse territory. I gotta say I think the harmonizing at the end of the song is an especially sweet touch. The consistently fluid transitions from song to song are a small and easily overlooked detail that I think shows a special level of awareness on the bands part. Crafting individual songs together into such a tight package harkens back to the pre-iTunes-singles era. With, ya know, albums...and stuff. On "Stop Lyin' Down" we are treated to Queens of the Stone Age Lite. Less reverb, lots more "Oh Yeah!" I like the sound of the song, and it's hella fun background music...but man (!), it doesn't say anything unique about the band like the rest of the songs do. If I listen intently for more than a moment the song devolves into tropes and well-worn musical ruts. Cars! Speed! Kill to Survive! Talking to yourself! The lyrics disconnect from the immediacy and cultural relevance that the rest of the songs effortlessly tapped into. Maybe that's the point; maybe the band is throwing this juxtaposition here to highlight the rest of the album’s congruity. Maybe this song is meta-commentary on their relevance, and how the least "relevant" song is the most relevant to their overarching narrative. Maybe I missed it, whatever it might be, completely. So they wrote a formulaic rock song...so what? If this is my biggest complaint with the album then they're doing just fine. "Summer Smoker" might have been my favorite song on my first listen through. There's a whiff of Swearing at Motorists that immediately perked my interest, and any song that makes me ask "can a hand clap be sarcastic?" earns a thumbs up from me.
So, there are themes of time, season and place rearing up to be noticed again and again on this debut. The determination of ones place in the grand scheme of things, from relation to those in surrounding circles... a form of personal echo-location, as if literally sounding out where one fits...seems central to the narrative. There's also the unifying themes of connection, calling, reaching out and communicating present and intertwined throughout the album. In fact, the pockets of unexpected toughness ("Stop Lyin' Down") work as a counter-balance to the emotional frankness and laid back dude-bro-man-ness of the whole affair. The power-pop vibe never overshadows the lyrical honesty and the band is always willing to let the music go where it needs to go, especially if it's into an epic jam finale.
And now on to the pleasant happy things I must need say about the band: There's a lovely use of piano throughout the album that could be lost in the recordings of a less assured band. There's a certain rugged punk sensibility to Midnight Reruns where each song is a small self-contained nugget of goodness, utterly independent of the rest of the songs, yet united by virtue of the bands unique musical imprint. The music carries itself with a looseness that makes the moments of driving intensity and technical precision that they work in all the more fun.
Midnight Reruns end the album with "Basement Guy" which seems to be a belated explanation of why they were "Going Nowhere" on the opening track. But let's face it.. .these guys are going somewhere. This music is too good, too complete, to stay in Milwaukee and be a once-upon-a-time regional thing. As the summer brings with it the ideal weather for new listeners to catch on to the band I heartily encourage you to pick up the album (on vinyl no less!) and on a sunny day open all your windows, crack open the cold beverage of your choice and immerse yourself in the pure-rock-joy that flows from Midnight Reruns!