Before I begin, to those who’ve come here looking for comics content, I’m currently in the middle of a big post about Batman, RIP, and another one on The Kingdom, but I’m afraid the probably won’t get finished for a day or two. It’s been a more-than-usually busy week for me, but I’ve got a long weekend off and I’m hoping to get a lot posted. In the meantime, here’s a music post.
I generally loathe ‘social networking’ sites, being as I am a grumpy curmudgeon who prizes content over form and has few real friends. But my band, The National Pep (currently on an extended hiatus, but you really should listen to our music – or, preferably, buy it) did set up a MySpace account a few years ago, and that had one unanticipated benefit – I discovered tons of new music through one single page on MySpace (which appears now to be defunct), the “Brian Wilson’s Band’s Colleagues” page.
Some of my favourite music of the late 90s/early 2000s came from a very small, interconnected, group of bands all based in LA. The Wondermints made wonderful powerpop records that sound like an imaginary Elvis Costello/Burt Bacharach collaboration (rather than like the rather underwhelming actual collaboration that those two had when they were both significantly past their prime). The Negro Problem (and, solo, their lead singer Stew) recorded baroque pop masterpieces with hilarious and touching lyrics, while Baby Lemonade made Cheap Trick/Queen style guitar pop.
However, that musical scene seems to have peaked around 2002, partly because they came to the attention of their musical heroes – the Wondermints have been the core of Brian Wilson’s band for ten years now, and consequently haven’t made much music of their own, while Baby Lemonade toured as Arthur Lee’s backing band until Lee’s death, and now rather sadly tour as a tribute band. (Stew, on the other hand, who was/is the strongest songwriter of the bunch by a long way, has gone on to write and perform in the Tony award winning musical Passing Strange).
But those three bands were just the most prominent members of a huge, thriving scene around the same time. There must have been something in the water in LA about ten years ago, because there were/are a *huge* number of good bands, often featuring many of the same people (multi-instrumentalist Probyn Gregory and percussionist Nelson Bragg must be in thirty bands between them). The Now People, The Mello Cads, Cosmo Topper, Chewy Marble… I’d heard *of* many of these bands, but until they were linked on one MySpace page with easily accessible sound files, I had no idea how good they were. I also subscribed to eMusic at that time, so I was able to actually get hold of many of the albums. At least three of the best albums I’ve listened to in the last year (Kristian Hoffman’s &, the Now People’s Last Great Twentieth Century Love Affair and Candypants by Candypants) were ones I discovered through that site, along with a lot of merely ‘very good’ music. Of those three, & is probably the best, but Candypants is my favourite.
The first track I heard by Candypants is a non-album single, Nerdy Boys, which is still one of my very favourite singles of all time. Over a sixties-sounding hammond riff, the lead singer, Lisa Jenio (also the flautist in The Negro Problem and lead singer of The Stool Pigeons, who made two excellent albums of punked-up Merseybeat covers), sings the chorus:
Just four little eyes and I’m weak in the knees
I wanna live his junior high fantasies
Just one giant brain, I’m his collectible toy
I’m just a sucker for a nerdy boy
The funniest thing on the record is the ‘sexy’ spoken outro, with lines like “No, I don’t think your butt is pasty… it reminds me of the sands of … Tattooine”; but what made me fall in love with the record was one verse:
He thinks DNA is pretty
CGI makes him giddy
He’ll only listen to the mono version of Surf City
Which is not only a rather acutely observed line (rather than just using lazy ‘nerd’ cliches) but also contains a reference that practically nobody would get (the chorus to Proto-Pretty, the Wondermints’ debut single, starts “The DNA is pretty”) but that works well in context. That alone was enough to make me download (legally, it’s on eMusic) the band’s eponymous album (which I just noticed clicking through was released eight years ago today).
Musically, the album is mostly bubblegum pop by way of punk – there’s a lot of guitar stompers and hammond organ – but there’s quite a lot of variation, with songs like Cherry Picker sounding more like Roger Nichols style soft pop. Most of it’s insanely catchy, equal parts Blondie, the Zombies and the Monkees, but the real attraction is Jenio’s lyrics and vocals.
A lot of the songs are, in one way or another, about sex (as one might imagine from someone who is, or claims to be, an ex-editor of Barely Legal (not a periodical with which I am familiar – I imagine it is to do with interesting loopholes that have arisen in recent litigation? )) but Jenio is one of the very few female singer/songwriters who sing about sex as something fun, rather than as a means of titillating male listeners. Songs like Beat Head, Mandelay and Dishy are far sexier than almost any other music I’ve heard, because they’re clearly sung by someone who is ‘sex-positive’ (horrible term but I can’t think of a better one), but intelligent, in control, and witty as hell.
Jenio’s lyrics cover a lot of different styles, from fairly typical love songs (Fake It and Slayer, actually probably the two strongest songs on the album) to pure fun like the guitar stomper I Want A Pony:
Mom I wanna be an astronaut, buy me a rocket ship so I can sail to Mars
I don’t wanna fly an Apollo, buy me the Enterprise or I don’t wanna go
Mom I wanna be the president, buy me votes, pay my rent
Or maybe writing novels would be fun, mommy hire a novelist to write me one
Mom I wanna be a movie queen, buy me the cover of Premiere magazine
I’m way funnier than Jay Leno, buy me a motorcycle and a TV show
Can a model win a Nobel Prize? Buy me brains, liposuck my thighs
Hurry hurry I don’t have all day, if you love me mommy you’ll do what I say
I want a pony
I want a pony
I want a pony
I want a pony
Other than this one album, Candypants have only released two singles, the aforementioned Nerdy Boys (on a compilation called All Right, Let’s Hear It For The Girls which is also on eMusic) and a Christmas single The Happiest Time Of The Year produced by the Wondermints’ Darian Sahanaja (which they usually put up for download from their myspace page around Xmas every year). But this small output (so far – the band are still active and I’ve had some brief email conversations with Lisa which suggest she’s planning to record more soon) doesn’t have a single duff track in the lot.
(Quick warning if you plan to download the album from eMusic though – the CD had 14 very short silent tracks before the last hidden track. All 14 of those are on the version on eMusic, which means unless you download the tracks separately you’ll be paying a lot for silence…)