Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Claudettes: “Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium!” (2018) CD Review

First of all, I love the album title Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium! The humor of it reminds me of my early teens, especially with the use of the exclamation point, because, hey, everything was so serious and important back then. Scandal! Gymnasium! Dance! And the back cover, with the black bars over the band members’ eyes, reminds me of my childhood too, for I was a huge AC/DC fan and listened to the Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap album a lot. So I thought maybe the music on this new disc from The Claudettes would take me on a trip back to that time, or perhaps on a trip that has the feel of that time, that excitement. But I certainly wasn’t prepared for the wild ride this disc took me on. Yes, there is excitement here, but the music feels outside of time, with its interesting combination of jazz and pop and blues and punk. All tracks on this release are originals, written by Brian Berkowitz (also known as Johnny Iguana). This band really has its own sound, its own perspective, its own vibe. And it has something to say. The band is made up of Berit Ulseth on vocals; Johnny Iguana on keys, percussion and vocals; Zach Verdoorn on bass, guitar and vocals; and Matthew Torre on drums and percussion.

The album opens with “Don’t Stay With Me,” an unusual and totally engaging song with a full sound and a good rhythm. I particularly dig the work on keys. Check out these lines: “You obey too willingly/You come way too easily, when I call/You shouldn't stay with me, at all/Don't stay with me.” That’s followed by “November,” a character sketch with an urgent rhythm. “August of 2003/That was the best month that she’d ever seen/Tour bus and flowers and white limousine/Now she’s fumbling for a foothold, and she knows it’s getting late.”

“Give It All Up For Good” comes on strong, and is immediately fun, with a rhythm that catches you. And once the band has you in its groovy grip, it has something to say to you: “Nobody knows how to talk to each other these days” is the opening line. Yup, with all the new modes of communication, no one seems able to truly connect with anyone else. What I also love about this track is its play with language and with the expectations from what may seem like familiar lines. For example, what you expect will be “Everyone is going insane” becomes “Everyone around me, everyone is going inane.” And, bugger me, ain’t that the truth? This is one of my favorite tracks. “Naked On The Internet” is also about a form of communication. Social media sites took over communication, and now they are in the news again, as it is clear once more that our privacy is in jeopardy. Partly it’s our own fucking fault. Don’t post photos of every damn thing you do, don’t mention when you start a relationship or end a relationship, don’t post where you are at any given moment. Just stop! We are all naked on the internet, from the supposed safety of our homes. Yes, “Naked On The Internet” is another of my favorite tracks, about a lack of privacy, and about how once something is on the internet, it can never really be completely removed.

“Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium,” the album’s title track (though without the exclamation point), begins on piano. This one takes on an urgent, intense feel right at the start, and yet has something of an early rock and roll thing happening too, and then also a 1970s ELO-type of thing. There is a great energy to this instrumental track. Well, there are vocals, but no lyrics. This is actually another of the album’s highlights for me.

“Influential Famers” comes on suddenly with a strong force, reminding us that piano is a percussion instrument. It does then ease back for brief moments before thumping in again. The line “It’s not 1989 no more” seems to stand apart, stand out, like when you’re on acid and suddenly a line is clearer than any other (ah, is that the band’s way of telling me to forget any associations I was making between this album’s cover and my teens?). Then “Death And Traffic” begins on piano too, but in a more mellow way. And Berit’s vocals have a more compassionate, thoughtful tone. I think this song is going to speak strongly to a lot of people, particularly these days. “I can’t bear to hear ‘They shot ‘im! They shot ‘im!’/All I wanna hear when the dust has cleared is ‘We found ‘em! We found ‘em! We found ‘em!’/All I wanna hear is ‘Yes, my dear, the fear is nearly over.’” Things are bad out there, and the consensus – sadly – is that things are going to get even worse before they get better (seriously, I think at least once a day someone says that to me). I love that this song is also hopeful, but it had me in tears. “The boys in the city and the girls so pretty should run for fun, not for cover…for cover.”

This CD ends with an unusual tune (well, these are all unusual, aren’t they?), “Utterly Absurd.” It’s a cool song that at times might put you at unease, like you’re unsure of your footing. This one, too, is about communication, with these lines: “Thought dies as transmissions rise/’I’ll look it up’ has devoured ‘I know.’” Doesn’t it drive anyone else mad that in a conversation when someone is trying to remember something or think of something, someone else will just get on the phone and search for the answer? Sure, it’s convenient, but it’s so goddamn depressing. No one bothers to think anymore. This song has a punk energy, which feels completely appropriate.

CD Track List
  1. Don’t Stay With Me
  2. November
  3. Give It All Up For Good
  4. Naked On The Internet
  5. Pull Closer To Me
  6. Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium
  7. Bill Played Saxophone
  8. Influential Farmers
  9. Death And Traffic
  10. Total Misfit
  11. Taco Night Material
  12. Utterly Absurd
Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium! was released on March 23, 2018 on Yellow Dog Records.

No comments:

Post a Comment