My wife recently commented on the monthly fee that eMusic draws from our credit card. “You still get music from these guys?”
“Yep. I’ve grandfathered an introductory rate that still nets me 50 downloads a month — an incredible bar-goon.”
“So 50 new songs every month?”
“More or less.”
“What kind of music are we talking about? Have I heard any of it?”
The answer to the first question didn’t come easily. The answer to the second question did. She has her music, I have my music, we have our music. The girls have Glee. More often than not my monthly downloads don’t qualify for any of those categories.* But I keep with it, because it’s an inexpensive way to satisfy my curiosity.
eMusic’s stock and trade is stuff that gets played at Bonnaroo, or in the sort of nightclubs I lost the ability to locate when I became a father. A glance at my sidebar bears this out. Right now we have The People’s Temple, who seem to have recovered an echo from an unhappily concluded Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test, and, on the super-hip nightclub side of things, the Handsome Furs. A couple of months ago there was Cut Copy, the lushly indulgent disciples of Human League, and Le Butcherettes, who sound like this picture looks:
A picture is worth 1000 words, but I feel like I ought to say more. WP, the quarter-century version, took a cussed and hearty delight in any sonic palette located just to the left of the radio dial.** WP, sliding toward the half-century mark, has become stingy about delight. You kids keep on rocking in the free world: I’m happy to listen. But that’s as much encouragement as you'll get from me.
“So what kind of music are you looking for?” was my wife’s natural next question.
In a flash of damning candor, I said, “I miss classic rock. I mean, I’m sick of hearing the standards being played over and over. I guess I want new classic rock.”
Good luck with that.
Occasionally I do luck out. My itching ears were well and truly scratched by the Supersuckers’ superlative Motherfuckers Be Tripping, as well as the neo-Psychedelic musings of Porcupine Tree. Alice continues to oblige, of course. Also, there was a brief moment when Kings of Leon seemed to be huddling over their Coleman stove and cooking up something promising.
And now we have The Sheepdogs, a Canadian band that wouldn’t have caught my ear if they hadn’t caught my eye by winning the Rolling Stone cover contest.
Again, Kings of Leon comes to mind because I think KoL strains to sound this good. The crucial difference is the Sheepdogs aren’t searching for a sound — they’ve nailed it down. If you spin this week’s release, Five Easy Pieces, or better yet, last year’s Learn & Burn, you’ll catch a heady bouquet of worthy influences: the edgy wistfulness of mid-career Guess Who, the tightly-controlled guitar-driven playfulness of Dinosaur Jr., the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, a slapdash of CCR when they were still having fun, and just enough of the Beatles to acknowledge the obvious and move on to the business at hand — putting on a rock show for the here and now.***
The fact that the production of Learn & Burn was financed by pocket change and returned empties astonishes me. At first spin, this does not come off as an “indy” project. The devotion to disciplined songcraft is remarkable — in contrast to the current norm of indecipherable wordplay, most Sheepdog lyrics actually make sense (though the band is still hip enough to title a song “Rollo Tomasi,” something the latent film buff in me deeply appreciates). And the musicianship is undeniably accomplished.
Further exposure brings out some amusingly rough edges. The obligatory traces of studio conversation are there, of course, contributing to a backyard party ambience. Then there’s the inclusion of a sax solo in “Right On,” a pleasing dash of mischief for this listener, and a huge middle-finger raised at what’s left of the reigning music industry. Atlantic is fortunate to sign an act that knows its mind and its sound to this degree. There’s little I’d bother tweaking, although I imagine that whoever Atlantic books to produce the next Sheepdogs album might offer some helpful tips on nailing vocal intonation. To my ears this little nudge could make the difference between great, which the Sheepdogs’ studio sound already is, to knocking the ball out of the park and into orbit.
It’s probably been 20 years since the cover of the Rolling Stone enticed me into a record store. I’m glad for this week’s interruption: Learn & Burn will be on near-continual rotation until Atlantic serves up the next Sheepdogs album. In the meantime anyone able to catch a Sheepdogs show, should, with all possible haste. I expect they’re mighty high from this experience, which will likely bring a whole new level of awesome to their performances.
*Unless it’s jazz, which gets played through the weekend.
** Something like this guy does.
***Prior to Learn & Burn we have two journeyman albums — Trying To Grow (2007) and Big Stand (2008, currently available as a free download on the band’s site). Although laid down with impressive assurance, these collections probably play best as happy reminiscences of a previously enjoyed live show.****
**** I remember the first two albums by U2 playing the exact same way.