An anonymous listener once emailed Stephanie Earp and told her that she had a terrible voice. A complaint like that doesn’t come around every day—most people would rather call you radio friendly than offend your artistic sensibilities—so I have to admit that this intrigued me. Sometimes listening to very bad music is almost as entertaining as listening to something good, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this Canadian songwriter’s latest album.
The CD is now sitting safely in my permanent archive. To give you an idea of what that means, there are nearly a hundred CDs that didn’t make it to my permanent archive, all of which are stacked on a spindle in my room—I am trying desperately to get rid of them. Stephanie Earp and the Ex-Boyfriends Are Chasing Down Dignity, on the other hand, deserves at least another spin. That anonymous listener was wrong, wrong, wrong.
The bio says that Earp is a product of Liz Phair, but I say that Earp has a better handle on that whip-smart charm than Phair. Her voice is one part Elizabeth Elmore and three parts Gwen Stefani—sarcastic, not world-weary, and vulnerable, but feisty. Some of the vocals are a little too high-pitched for my taste, but Earp’s band makes up for it with a solid ska and country-influenced alt-rock that sounds a lot better than your average garage band.
And never has alt-rock been this fun—listening to Stephanie expound on how “obviously teenagers can smell fear” on the “Back To School” trilogy, a paean to high-school anxieties, is about as satisfying as spitting peach pits out of a fifth-story apartment. “So walk the line between slut and virgin, raise your hemlines and lower your lashes,” taunts Earp. On “Accidents Will Happen”, a flashback to the simpler days of Elvis Costello, the band matches gut-kicker lines like “Accidents will happen but there’s nothing here to see / Just keep moving right along / Don’t you go feel sorry for me” with bouncy guitar solos that put a distinctly Canadian twist on country-western. The breakup song hasn’t sounded this bouncy since Liz Phair’s “Never Said”—and perhaps that’s where the comparison kicks in. Despite the gamine vocals and the FM radio instrumentation, Earp’s music is far from forgiving and never plaintive. The famous and now-defunct Weeping Tile, also from Kingston, Ontario, would be proud of this trio. Like Weeping Tile, Earp’s band sticks largely to safe, but good thumping rock.