This month, we asked Portland writer and musician Peet Chamberlain to review recent records of original material by two acts you’re likely to encounter on the cover-band scene this summer. (By “encounter,” we mean “overhear playing on an Old Port bar patio while you’re headed somewhere else.”)
Down and Out
Two Dogs Music
The bio on The Grumps’ Web site calls them an “engaging and unique band … Combined with one of the most exclusive and formidable promotions teams ever accessible to indie rock artists, it’s a wonder why you haven’t heard of The Grumps already.” That sounds interesting, but when the opening track on their new album fails to live up to its title, “Mediocrity,” you no longer wonder why you haven’t heard of them.
The music isn’t offensive, it’s just not good. Music that offends me tends to at least stir up some negative emotions. It leaves me feeling something. When Down and Out ended after 12 tracks, nothing stuck with me. Sure, the guitars rip at times, and the sax solos sound professional, but who cares when they’re playing over such vanilla chord progressions?
The Grumps seem to have skipped Bruce Springsteen and gone straight to John Mellencamp as their primary influence on several tracks. Amazingly, the intros to “Mediocrity” and the wild “Mamma Jamma Programma” manage to be completely different from one another while both sounding just like the beginning of “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” As OK as that song is, I didn’t need to be reminded of it twice.
There are trippy moments here and there, but don‘t waste your drugs. “Amherst” piles on so much reverb that it’s hard to make out any lyrics. After listening for the fifth time, and figuring out the opening line was “Godspeed / Going to Amherst,” I gave up trying to make sense of the rest of it. Singer Ryan Halliburton seems to be channeling the ghost of Jeff Buckley drowning on this one.
Maybe after a few more listens, Down and Out will reveal something to me. It’s doubtful I’ll give it the chance.
The Running Gags
The Running Gags’ online bio warns that if you’re “looking for another cliché rock act with fundamentally generic riffs and bland song arrangement: Move along.” Unfortunately, this is a perfect description of The Running Gags.
The band borrows many of the most annoying elements of late-’90s pop-punk records. 311 guitar tones complement Blink-182 lyrics like “You think / You’re so smart,” with singer Kevin MacKaye doing his best Tom Delonge whine. Nothing in the album’s liner notes tells you what year it came out. Had it not been for the pixilated Twitter and Facebook icons pasted under the lyrics, I would probably have guessed 1997.
The addition of Dave deBree on saxophone (there are three deBrees in this quartet) helps songs like “Just a Tree” end on a higher note than they started on. Sax solos don’t seem to fit what these guys do, but at least they give you a break from the sloppy drum fills and muddy bass solos scattered all over the record.
Like The Grumps’ Down and Out, Yeah, No left me wondering when and where this album would be appropriate for consumption. It didn’t improve my ride to work at all. I guess if you wanted to recreate an evening upstairs at Bull Feeney’s in your home, you could invite your friends over, crank this record, and complain that the music’s too loud to talk over.
— Peet Chamberlain