Frankly, Mr. Shankly

As an infant, noise is one of the key elements that influences our emotions.  Some noises scare a baby, some provide comfort and the sound of mom’s voice will always bring a smile.  As we grow older, sounds continue to bring us joy: the sound of the ice cream truck or the bell signifying the end of the school day.  I still get goosebumps from remembering the sound of the crowd cheering at assorted Stanley Cup final and World Series games I’ve been fortunate enough to attend.  As we grow older it becomes more difficult to hear unique noises that can bring us that joy.  The new East Hundred album “Passenger” produces those rare sounds that bring this kind of excitement and joy.

Somewhere in this world is a person called Shankly.  Every month he puts out a torrent of roughly a hundred songs that he thinks are the best of the previous month.  Shankly put East Hundy’s “Slow Burning Crimes” on this month’s list and it’s by far the best single I’ve heard this year.  It’s the first track on the album and it set’s the tone  for the rest of the record.

Singer Beril Guceri writes vocal melodies that have brilliant chord progressions (again, the kind that give you goosebumps) and has a voice that recalls Sarah Shannon of Velocity Girl.  It’s a great voice without having the obnoxious noodley noodley quality musically trained female singers sometimes exhibit (in other words, she’s no Carrie Underwood. Phew!).

Guitarist Brooke Blair (whose brother Will plays drums) contributes guitar parts that have the great quality of sounding like a lot of different bands.  No pigeon-holing for these folks.  Although, while listening to this album I couldn’t help but think of The Smiths in their prime.  Brooke and the rhythm section of Will Blair and bass player Dave Sunderland are able to produce songs that at one moment are almost anthemic (Plus Minus, Slow Burning Crimes, Deadpan) but then precious and fragile (Pony and the tremendous Afterlove).  Imagine the brilliance of early Smiths with a female singer who doesn’t write everything in the first person.

Susan Gager contributes in ways that few keyboardists do.  She provides terrific atmospherics to most of the songs, harkening to the best keyboards of Radiohead songs.  But she also steps to the front and adds seemingly effortless, yet vital keyboard melodies to a few songs notable Slow Burning Crimes.  The “toy piano” she uses on SBC is a tremendous touch and “makes” the song.

New Order’s early albums (particularly Power, Corruption and Lies) were great because you focus on a single instrument for the length of a song and be thoroughly engaged and entertained.  Passenger has this unique trait.  Amazingly, all of this is recorded on their own dime.  All the multi-tracking you hear, all the layering were done by a band without a record deal.  No months in the studio and no thousands of record company dollars at work here.  Just a workmanlike, efficient group of people that have made a complex and sonically dense record.

In their band bio, the relationship and breakup of Brooke and Beril is frequently referenced for it’s impact on the making of this record.  Lyrically, the album travels the path of a failed romance engagingly and tragically.  But here’s the thing: this is the work of a band that clearly is not using this a  crutch or as their sole inspiration.  Songs of love and dissolution pepper musical history, this band will clearly be sharing their love for music for many years to come.

I had committed to spending the next month previewing South By Southwest.  After hearing Slow Burning Crimes, I assumed that I would be adding East Hundred to my preview.  Shockingly, the band hasn’t been signed (Bobbie, you may need to look into this) and isn’t going to SXSW.  I would suggest contacting SXSW and demanding that they refund $20 to you so that you can put that money aside to see EH when they come to your town.  You deserve to have the smile and the goosebumps you get from listening to this band.

Purchase the album at the band’s website: http://www.easthundred.com

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~ by toddc2001 on February 19, 2009.

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