By Mike Faloon
Young Fresh Fellows
Tiempo de Lugo LP + CD
Yep Rec Records
Another Ten Reasons to Dig the latest Young Fresh Fellows record, Tiempo de Lugo:
1) Tiempo de Lugo opens with this lyric: “All crumpled up like a highway wreck on the cold black floor of a desert discotheque” (from “Another Ten Reasons"). Pretty grim, eh? The narrator knows that his better half has ten reasons to split for every reason to stay, and yet he presses onward, ever onward. Despite a seemingly self-effacing metaphor, the Young Fresh Fellows (YFF) are in far finer shape than that desert car crash.
2) The YFF write with equal parts humor and heartache. A lot of people have a distorted perception of the band’s humor angle; they peg the Fellows as a novelty band. In part, it’s a reaction to the band’s name. Fair enough, to some extent, on a limited surface level. In part such a reaction reflects the either/or thinking of the digital age. Republican or Democrat? PC or Mac? Serious band or funny band? We can’t peg you, Fellows. Thus, we deem you novelty!
Regardless, so many of my favorite performers — from Buck Owens to Boris the Sprinkler — balance both. I came of age in the ‘80s. Though I didn’t feel so at the time, I was pretty lucky. There were tons of “both” bands — Camper Van Beethoven, the Replacements, Scruffy the Cat. There were so many I could afford to pass on the lesser members of the pack (Dead Milkmen).
3) Kurt Bloch on guitar!
4) I love puzzling over the narrative to “Cleflo and Zizmor.” I had a theory even before I heard this song. The title characters sound like a pair of WWI-era immigrant anarchists. Slavs or Pols, probably not of Italian descent. Regardless, they're falsely accused, rounded up in the Palmer Raids, their story lost to the sands of time. Except for those letters Zizmor sent from prison to some Kansas City broadsheet whose archives were wiped out in a suspect fire during the Hoover years. Turns out the song is about a doctor who advertises on the subway.
5) There is a treasure trove of wonderful phrases in the album’s lyrics. Here’s one from “So Many Electric Guitars”: “Some are not very proto punk.” The Fellows, and Scott McCaughey in particular, have a wonderful knack for redistricting language. They incorporate such a rich variety of words and phrases, many of which are associated with genres beyond the boundaries of typical rock lyrics—music criticism, short stories—and draw them into tunes both straight forward and ambiguous.
6) Tiempo de Lugo is on LP! This is the first time since 1992’s Low Beat Time that I’ve enjoyed a new YFF disc on vinyl. All the ridicule I endured during the ‘90s and ‘00s for buying records and now the dang things are back, kind of.
7) There are six Tad contributions. Tad Hutchinson, that is, drummer, lyricist, artist. Those six cuts represent 50% of the songs on Tiempo de Lugo. That’s an historical high. (Or “a” historical high. It seems that changes are afoot re: which article to use in such cases. In the past month both my dad and my wife’s uncle have pointed out this transition. In both cases they did so with a hearty contempt for contemporary writers. I argued that spelling and grammar and language evolve. I think this is a good thing, but in the interest of establishing common ground I cited such lame newcomers to the lexicon as “blog” and “ear buds.”)
8) Nothing beats the sound of longtime pals sweating through a stack of new ‘60s styled pop and garage rock. Every time I get a new YFF record I think, Enjoy it, man, it’s their last. Hopefully they’ve found a lasting home at Yep Roc. (Then again what to make of the “guitars sticking out of an open casket” image on the back sleeve?)
9) The cover art is excellent. Looks great on a green t-shirt, too. Not shilling, just saying.
10) And at the end, after cycling the dozen tunes and getting ready for another lap, I’m left with a head scratcher: Who’s Jerry Marsdale? His name adorns the head of the kick drum on the back of the record. He’s listed in the thank you’s. Who is he is.
I found this on a blog called Seattle Pi: “They (YFF) continued with their intermittent jokes, a lot of which I don’t think I fully understood because they had some history to them. Jerry Marsdale took a jab at the band’s age by busting out an oversized calculator he pretended was a cellphone that he was calling David Duchovny of the 90s hit show ‘The X-Files.’”
Then I emailed Scott McCaughey and asked about Jerry Marsdale: “Jerry Marsdale is just Tad I guess, or a fictional Tad, or a Tad drumming alter ego. Who knows the way that guy thinks!”
11) After I let the above list site for awhile I went back to the album. Still a corker. Only change I’d make would be to move “A Fake Hello” back in the sequence. Seems too slow for the third cut on the album, especially after opening with the killer combo of “Another Ten Reasons” and “Tad’s Pad.”
But that’s a quibble, a pick of the nit, one of those moves critics lapse into to justify praise of a worthy work—I want people to accept my celebration of this record, better mix in a criticism or two. There's street cred to consider!
Then I got over that nonsense and realized that “So Many Electric Guitars” is one of the finest songs Scott McCaughey’s ever penned. It’s got lyrics about rock and roll, baseball, and mortality. Granted only 2/3 of those topics are actually stated in the lyrics. Undaunted I returned to the song repeatedly. I thought I had it figured out. I realized I didn’t. Scott McCaughey was kind enough to field a couple of my questions. I’ll note up front that he didn’t make fun of my theories. Nobleman of Edenbrook Forest, indeed.
Now the interview…
Go Metric: Is there anything to this theory about “So Many Electric Guitars”: the verses are about what becomes of old guitars. The chorus is about what becomes of old baseball stadiums, like the Seattle Kingdome. Finally, implicitly, the song is about what becomes of old(er) musicians?
Scott McCaughey: You’re probably giving me too much credit — not sure I thought about it that hard. It started simply with the thought of how many guitars are out there in the world, because in general, electric guitars don’t go anywhere to die. They just become cooler over the years — even crummy guitars, or one’s that are only cool for ironic reasons. This can also indeed happen to ballparks and musicians, although obviously not always the case!
GM: There’s a line in the chorus about “The Beach Boys, Clash, and Wings.” I’ve looked for connections among them. I’ve found none, come up blank. What am I missing?
SM: These are all bands that played there, in the generally woeful sounding Kingdome acoustics. I saw the Beach Boys, after a Mariners game, and the Clash, opening for the Who. Didn’t see the Wings show, it was before my time in Seattle. But it was captured for eternity as the filmed show from that tour. Why they picked the Dome I don’t know. The chorus (to “So Many Electric Guitars”) about the Kingdome only relates to the rest of the song in my own mind — thinking about the loud guitars that were played there, often somewhat ineffectually. The connection between the verses and the chorus is tenuous at best, but in my impressionistic thought patterns it felt right for the song.
GM: The lyrics to “So Many Electric Guitars.” I’ve puzzled out most of them, but can you fill in the gaps? (Note: I had most of the words right. I’m not such as cad as to ask a dude to type out his song lyrics!)
So many electric guitars
More than all the derelict cars
And even the homeless few
String 'em up, it's waiting for you
Somewhere there's a teenage band
Somewhere in Grow A Moustache land
Getting a trash can Trashmen tone
From a new Korean Epiphone
Where did the Kingdome go?
Where did the Kingdome go?
When they blew it all to smithereens
For the Beach Boys, Clash, and Wings
Some guitars look like space junk
Some guitars are not very proto punk
Green dazzlers, Old Black in a hearse
White Falcons and Tobacco Sunburst
So many electric guitars
Where's the electric guitar junkyard
They don't die when they get old
No, they turn into solid gold
When the dust settled in the ground
did the echoes finally drown
The big boss gold top sound
So many electric guitars