“the cleaning is now complete”
Selling Out in the Silent Era, by Stereobate, was released in November 2001. I have no idea why I haven’t heard this CD before now. Fusing influences diverse as Brian Eno, June of ’44, Mercury Rev, Jane’s Addiction, Widespread Panic, folk, bluegrass, and DJing, the three members of Stereobate (Jenks Whittenburg, Trip Hosmer, and Winston Binch) have crafted one of the finest albums I’ve heard in a long time.
The beginning track, “Let’s Make a Foreign Film!,” is an ambient noise conglomeration that ends in a smooth female voice: “The cleaning is now complete. Please enjoy the music.” And then it’s off to the races. The album is eclectic in its music choices, but it works very well. Even Winston Binch, guitar player, admits it is “a scattered record.” “The French Letter” is melodic and beautiful and even; the music progressing along its orchestration, building constantly, growing and weaving. “When Radio Came” is broken and disjointed, but still retains its whole, complete with heavy bass and whispered lyrics: “when radio came the stars came and when video came the sky got crowded, when radio came we all hear voices then video came to kill my chances.”
Stereobate does not depend on lyrics; instead they choose to express their thoughts through the music. The lyrics, when they do appear, mostly come barreling out like bullets from a gun: forceful and staccato. They are a contradiction, a juxtaposition, an interruption to the organic, moving, living thing that is the music.
Selling Out in the Silent Era is a powerful album with passion, anger, distress, and memories all wrapped up into a neat and tightly controlled chaotic package. The music is new and alive. While songs change from chronic metal to soft melody to bluegrass strumming to ambient (sometimes within one song), they retain their character. Stereobate is not afraid to mix it up and let the songs take chances when they want. There is always a danger with experimenting so vividly with sounds and forms and drastic changes, but the band sounds like experts.
“where, oh where, is the peep show?”
While listening to the beginning of The Better Button by the Mink Lungs, these are the things I wrote in across the top of my paper: “Pop. Cheap Trick. Catchy safe guitar-tunes. Another in the line of hipster slick-sounding guitar bands. It sounds clean. Polished. There’s something in these songs, but they’re just not quite there yet. They are missing that spark.”
The first songs, “I Sell Love,” “Silent Sex,” “Watch Yourself,” and “Think of Me,” are nice songs; but they elicited the first comments I wrote. The songs just didn’t move me. They sounded like a lot of things I had heard before. On the cover of the CD is a preacher in a tent revival, and that is what the Mink Lungs were doing: preaching to the already converted. The music is safe pop.
Well, apparently it’s the second half of the CD I should have been listening to for enjoyment. Why bury their best stuff at the end?
When I reached “Synthesizer Baby,” “Widths & Lengths,” “Oscillator,” “Snail,” the bottom of my paper became crowded with comments and excitement and my writing began crawling up the sides of the page. These songs all have a taste of what’s to come: imagination, creativity, an edge, quirky, original, entertaining, and most important, moving. The way the band played on these songs told me they liked playing these songs. That’s what I missed in the beginning of the CD: emotion.
“Synthesizer Baby” is a mixed-up noisefest that maintains its character with drive. “Widths & Lengths” is like a CD on fast forward, an interesting collection of sped-up samples of differing styles, ending in a slow blues riff. It works. “Oscillator” has raw energy, reminiscent of the Smashing Pumpkins or the Breeders. “Snail” is a folksy twangy tune about being in a rock band, and built beautifully. “Peep Show” is fabulous and real.
There were still some foul-ups in the second half, and they seemed to center around ballad-type tunes (“Remaining Loyal,” “Who Loves You Dear?”). “Demon Powers of Hell” is a valiant attempt to be extremely quirky and original, but it is a lost cause.
There has been a lot of hype about the Mink Lungs. The Mink Lungs are a talented band. They’ll make good albums, but I think there’s a really great one still waiting somewhere in there. The Better Button starts as a pop album, and ends with some gems. I hope they pay attention to how those came about. And please, enjoy the music.
Stereobate is currently working on an EP scheduled for release this summer. They will begin touring at the same time.
The Mink Lungs plays frequently in the city and will tour the East Coast this summer.
Grant Moser is an art writer and frequent contributing writer for the Brooklyn Rail.