1. down on the farm
c: ok, so shit for fuckheads is bending the rules this time around & we are reviewing a CDep, not an LP. this will probably be the last time we ever do it. why? well, there is a good reason. the wandering jews is fronted by this guy i went to high school with. we were not close friends back then, and i remember him more than he remembers me, though we know each other better now, i think... joe clifford, like many of us has been through hell and back, but that doesn't really matter. despite the trials of life, he still walks the earth & has a wife & kid & he is a damn good writer to boot & i am grateful that i have been reacquainted with him after all these years, because we have followed a similar path & it is good to know someone, not so different from you, is still fighting the good fight. now on to the music...
right off the bat, springsteen comes to mind & that is not a bad thing... the band is tight as well & it is surprising to hear a chorus and dynamic changes in this day of bands finding a groove & not really mixing things up for the rest of tune. lyrically, there is a good dose of hope & despair, but whenever someone goes on point blank about their previous drug use, whether it be good or bad, i get turned off a bit. it usually doesn't need to be said. it is already implied in the meat of the story. good choice for the first track & fans of bruce & the gaslight anthem should be sucking this up greedily.
j: I'll have to admit I kind of grit my teeth when someone says "hey my friend has this band and they have this CD and you should listen to it." Not that they're always terrible, it's just that I barely have enough time to listen to my own records anymore. There's a lot of good music out there, and I'm resigned to the fact that I won't get to hear it all before I die. I just won't. So my listening time is precious.
That said, I'm glad I listened to this Wandering Jews EP. In fact, I listened to it a few times. My first thought after the first few seconds of 'Down On The Farm' was "Oh, okay, they're not fucking around." It's a big-sounding, professional, beautifully-arranged tour de force type song that immediately brought to mind the pioneering 80s/90s alt-country bands like The Jayhawks and The Silos. It's clearly also a deeply personal song, which can be dangerous territory, as Chris points out. Confessional lyrics sometimes run the risk of coming off as kind of affected or overly-strategic. The one line "Even after all the drugs I've taken" kind of jarred me because the previous lyrics find clever ways of expressing things and this line seemed slightly in-artistic at this (crucial) point in the song. In fact, the arrangement at this point (the stops and starts) sort of asks the listener to pay more attention to these lyrics. I don't want to belabor this idea because it's a song that I like quite a bit, but it's just interesting to me how the arrangement of a song puts more pressure on certain lyrics. Another way of putting it that there's a fine line between Jungleland and I'll Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That). I can happily report that I would put this song firmly in the former camp.
2. paul westerberg
c: i have to say that as soon as i saw the title, my expectations were immediately too high. joe (& i reckon the rest of his band) is a big replacements fan, so when they titled the second track, i expected something along the lines of the mats' "alex chilton," which is a tall fucking order. i mean, how can you not make the connection? anyhoo, it is not a bad song whatsoever & it could almost fit on the replacements "all shook down" LP... it has that feel & sound to it. but, i firmly believe they should have called it something else... perhaps "fishing for ghosts" or "skyscraper tombstones." my point is that the song is not about paul westerberg, unless i am missing something. this is my only pet peeve for the song... it is a great pop tune, period.
j: Chris beat me to it--The Gaslight Anthem. I was thinking "Jayhawks, Silos, Bruce, but his voice sounds EXACTLY like some singer I know." And then it came to me about thirty seconds into Paul Westerberg. Even down to the descriptive lyrical style. It's a cool, evocative song, though I agree with Chris about the title. Not sure if I need Paul sitting on my shoulder for this one. I'm going to go a bit off topic here, but this is one of my main gripes with Gaslight Anthem (who I love, by the way)--the constant shout-outs to their influences. It's like "Enough already, I can hear the influence in the music, now be your own band." Your mileage may vary. I'm kind of a cranky old man.
3. teenage drummers
c: fantastic vocal performance & i wish there was more piano in the mix throughout the song... so far, this is the strongest tune on "down on the farm." it really makes me want to go out & drive around my old home town, drag on a cigarette & think about how fucked up things are...
j: Agreed the piano is excellent in this song. Not sure if it's my favorite from Down On The Farm, but it's a great song. Definitely drivin' around music.
4. so it goes
c: dig the beginning of tune & i was disappointed when it kicked in after the first verse... that was a nice & gloomy piano tune they had going. this thought quickly dissipates though. again, the feel of this ep keeps me thinking how much traditional songwriting has taken such a bad turn in the past decade or so. for some reason it is just not cool anymore. no one has the ability or the confidence to lay out a solid verse, chorus, verse, guitar solo or whatever, verse, chorus... you get the idea. kudos to the wandering jews on succeeding in this, but no one with any cash will ever care... fuck them.
j: Agree about the traditional songwriting/performing chops on display here. I haven't said it yet, but I'll say it now--this record SOUNDS impeccable. Usually when you listen to a demo you hear the rough around the edges stuff--strummy pointless rhythm guitar in the mix, buried or under-confident vocals, ill-advised drum fills, etc. The playing and the arranging are just stellar. Now go on youtube and look up a Vivian Girls video.
5. the crash
c: haven't really mentioned the band as a whole at this point, but this song is crying for it. what a bunch of talented, in synch, musicians... tight as hell & they have their sound down. "the crash" makes me want to jump in and kick some ass with them. other than that, this is a rocker from start to finish, no doubt at all & even though it is called "the crash" it is a glorious one...
j: Ripping solo in this one. Much like The Gaslight Anthem, Wandering Jews know how to deliver the breathlessness and exhilaration in these stories. It's so refreshing to hear a band who just openly cares about their music and isn't afraid to appear earnest.
Now I'm going to mention something that worries me a bit--if someone had put this on for me and said this was the new Gaslight Anthem record, I would not have doubted it for a second. As much as I like this EP, at points it's like a doppleganger of Gaslight Anthem to me. I have no idea if Wandering Jews ever even heard GA, and the similarities may be completely coincidental, but as a music listener it's just a bit problematic. Through no fault of Wandering Jews.
6. you weren't even my favorite wife
c: love the intro & i almost wish it was an instrumental. what a heartbreaker of a tune. there really is nothing else to say... "down on the farm" is an incredible example of what a bunch of "nobodies" can do. there are many out there, but we cling to what is hip and what is pushed on us... i implore all of you to dig deep, take the time & find shit off the beaten path that may turn you on. take a risk... it doesn't involve that much work & in the end, it is almost always rewarding whether you hit gold or not. to me, "down on the farm" is gold, not because i know the guy who wrote the damn songs, but because i can relate to this ep & it makes my ride home from work enjoyable... it gives me hope, damnit.
j: A very strong finish. Indeed, a heartbreaker and again, outstanding arrangement. Also probably my favorite lyrics on the record, very tasteful, and I like the ambiguous ending and the fade. Unlike Chris I don't know the songwriter, though I can recommend this record without hesitation. This was an extremely pleasant surprise.