Sometimes it’s not enough to be a music journalist. Sure it’s cool to write album reviews, interview musicians, and go to shows–but there’s something more exhilarating in actually being a participant in rock and roll than just sitting on the sidelines. And there is precedent: artists like the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, and Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye were music scribes before they found fame on the stage. (If you’re wondering about me, I harbor no ambitions to become a rock star, thus sparing you unnecessary pain.)
Two emerging local indie acts, Miserable Chillers and FAITH/VOID, feature members who are music writers by day: Miguel Gallego of Miserable Chillers (who’s written for AdHoc), and Brad Nelson of FAITH/VOID (whose credits include Pitchfork and The Village Voice). Aside from their journalistic backgrounds, these guys are talented musicians whose respective groups recently unveiled some impressive records.
Miguel Gallego leads Brooklyn’s Miserable Chillers, who independently put out a six-song release titled A Flower You Would Like to Eat. The band’s music synthesizes the influences of Prefab Sprout, Avalon-era Roxy Music, Kraftwerk, and several New Romantic bands into songs of self-consciousness and detachment accompanied by electronic influences. “Love Theme for the Wilderness,” which opens the album, could be described as cinematic art rock, while “An Enchanted World” is charming electropop. “The Children Board the Balloon”—whose title alone sounds like a track from an early Tyrannosaurus Rex album before they went glam—is a dreamy instrumental whose chime-y sounds evokes a sense of fantasy. Only the last two tracks, “Habits” and “Night in the Old Homes,” sound organic and straightforward, but no less romantic. On “Habits,” Gallego sings: “I fell in love into my oldest habits again, dreaming of your kiss.” His croon-like singing goes back and forth between drama, angst and melancholy, suitable for this arty synthpop. A Flower You Would Like to Eat is a record whose elaborate soundscapes and poetic imagery will envelop you.
On the other hand, you’ll be hard pressed to find synthesizers or romantic sentiment on FAITH/VOID’s latest release Skull Mountain USA. Hailing from Astoria and consisting of Brad Nelson (vocals/drums), Matt Lubchansky (bass/vocals) and Tim Lee (guitars/vocals), FAITH/VOID’s debut is no-frills straight-ahead punk that pummels you track after track. The record’s existential lyrics, written mostly by Nelson, are definitely not dreamy but rather pessimistic (“There’s no future, there’s no past/The past isn’t over the past isn’t past,” from “Red Shift”). A sense of claustrophobia and futility pervades the album, too, like on “Messy Isn’t It,” co-written by Lee and Nelson (“Lost at sea (in the slipstream of meaning))”; while “Adelaide” is an unsentimental and pointed character study about said person (“Lipstick on your teeth, blood and bone/Empty skeletons in which you’ve made a home”). The music is a fury-filled assault on the senses, and the vocals convey both anger and desperation, especially on a song like “Four More Beers” (“Your arm grazes/A beer on the table and it shatters into infinite fractions”).
In true punk fashion, each of the rip-roaring songs clock on FAITH/VOID’s record just under three minutes, resulting in an release that barely reaches a half hour. While emo/hardcore is not usually my bag, a sense of melody and craft on this well-produced effort makes Skull Mountain USA accessible for repeated listening.
Stylistically, these two acts have little in common. But their latest releases are by no means conventional but have their own unique spark. Nelson’s and Gallego’s musical talents in addition to their writing make me wish I could take up my old bass again and live out my rock and roll dreams–at least in my imagination.