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March 2001 Pick of the Month

Figureheads on the Forefront of Pop Culture 
Artist:  Blenderhead
Label:  Tooth & Nail Records
Length: 12 tracks/39:46
 

Blenderhead is a remnant from the so-called "glory days" of Tooth & Nail Records--those pre-Swing Praise years when you could count on any album released by the label to be of high quality.  Without turning this review into a wistful nostalgia piece, I will say that those days are long gone.  Fortunately for tasteful listeners everywhere, T&N still releases a lot of great records, and the new Blenderhead record is no exception. 

Blenderhead is fronted by Bill Power, whose "day job" is A&R director of --you guessed it--Tooth & Nail Records.  Power's singing voice is stronger than most bands in the math rock/indie rock genre, and at times serves as a stark contrast to the jagged guitars backing him.  He's not above screaming, however, a point to which "Theology and Algebra" and "You Know Who You Are" testify. 

Power's lyrics remind me of umpteen punk bands from my high school--they're ultra-simplistic and based on real-life situations.  The album-opening "I Gave Her My Heart, She Gave Me a Pen" finds Power wailing "I didn't steal your car, but I wish I had" and on "Emerald City Indie Queen" he is positively caustic, giving scenesters a much-needed kick in the pants.  Elsewhere, on "Transatlantic Solo Flight," his words are drenched in self-pity toward a bitter friend. 

I get the feeling, though, that the lyrics aren't what's important here.  Rather, as on most math-rock albums, the attention is given to the discordant guitars and the insane drums, very rarely operating in standard rock and roll 4/4 time.  In that respect, guitarists Ed Carrington and Tyler Vanderploeg and drummer Matt Johnson are as good as any in the business. 

Blenderhead fans know who they are, and will certainly rush to pick up this new album, but the band also has an opportunity to pick up new fans.  Will they succeed?  I'm not sure.  Figureheads on the Forefront of Pop Culture is about as far from radio-friendly as a person can get, and with much of the  rest of Tooth & Nail Records moving in that direction, Blenderhead may be the black sheep in the family. 

Michial Farmer 12/6/2000

One of Tooth & Nail's best bands returns. Singer/bassist Bill Power, drummer Matt Johnson, guitarist Edward Carrigan, and new guitarist Tyler Ploeg continue the last album's leaner post-punk (as opposed to Prime Candidates... chunkier grooves).  It's an intricate, messy mix of melody and dissonance, hooks and off-key singing and shouting, like a busier Fugazi or even Jawbox with more caffeine.  The musicianship is of course excellent; noisy to the novice listener but lovely to the trained emo ear.  Technical and tense either way. Matt Johnson is simply an octopus -- one of the best drummers in the biz -- having played for Roadside Monument and Raft of Dead Monkeys among others.  But you knew that.

The songs are all pretty short, and some are more accessible than past efforts, if such a term could be applied here.  There are moments when the blender is turned off, so to speak, and the contents settle into a single, thick rock riff that is most satisfying (like the last half of "Emerald City Indie Queen").  There's also an instrumental with "Monotone," slowing things down and giving the listener a breather.

Indie rock doesn't get any better lyric-wise, either.  The album is strewn with topics from relationships-gone-bad to indie scenesterism to social politics, philosophy, and so on.  Some stuff is everyman obvious, some is more personal, some gets cerebral.  Final track "Crown Hill Hardware" sums up the experience of Blenderhead and thousands of musicians:

Sticks on skin
Plastic on wire
Catharsis begins
Conquering demons
illuminating treason
basement life
this is our time
Rock and roll, baby.

 Josh Spencer    2/14/2001


 

Josh Spencer, contributing senior associate editor for The Phantom Tollbooth for over two years, is also publisher and editor-in-chief of spiritual pop culture webzine Stranger Things.  Reviews and articles by him are usually simultaneously published in some form at http://www.strangerthingsmag.com.
   
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