When looking at the prolific Social Registry label’s collective of artists, Mike Bones is one of the more intriguing on the roster. This isn’t because of the experimental nature of his recordings, which is much like Gang Gang Dance, Growing, and Psychic Ills, but because of the more traditional route he has taken within his own spectrum of songcraft. Much like the current recordings of Wooden Wand, after experimenting in a circle for a great deal of time, there is something intriguingly new about the idea of writing with verses and choruses.
But there’s something strange that always causes these kinds of experiments to go awry, and certain aspects of them to be utterly fascinating. If experimental artists try to go more traditional, it feels somewhat forced, and vice-versa. On Bones’s latest album, A Fool for Everyone, his diversions into songwriting cover the indie rock territory of the early ‘90s, the vocal qualities of Robyn Hitchcock and Stephen Malkmus, and the amplified guitar sounds of Americana. Sometimes Bones hits it brilliantly, and other times fall short of the outcome he had intended.
“Today the World Is Worthy of My Loathing”, the album’s lead-off track, defines all the beauty and error that A Fool for Everyone is capable of producing. On one hand, it’s this glorious explosion of the guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll that drenched the ‘90s indie sound, but the lyrics fall into Morrissey’s worst attempts at being sad. A recording can be beautifully produced, and the vocals can even be on point (although I must digress, and claim that Bones is not the most talented singer in the world, but knows exactly what he wants out of his voice), but if the lyrics are at the front of the mix, then you can’t be speaking rubbish.
The pinnacle of the songwriting lies within the album’s title track, “A Fool for Everyone”, where he claims “Like a monkey grinds his cage / Like a woman mourns her age / I made a deal with every pleasure left below the sun”. The song is written about how each and every human desires to live a little, and how vulnerable we are to those life experiences. All in all, one of the better analyses of the nagging urge we all have to sell our dignity for a little bit of life. Bones is tapped into something emotionally that a lot of songwriters today can’t seem to get a finger on, but he’s not always in touch with it. Like many songwriters just starting out, the transition of words from the mind to paper can fail them from time to time.
It’s interesting to think about what this record might have sounded like had it taken on the sonic territory of his Brooklyn counterparts. The most relevant example of this is the 7” single release of “What I Have Left”, in which the b-side is a remixed track (basically, a completely different instrumental rendition with the same vocals) by labelmates Sian Alice Group that takes on the psychedelic, droned-out charm of that gained Social Registry its loyal fan base over recent years. The version that appears on the album is much less inspired, because the pulsating guitars don’t quite compliment the vocals (and, this time, marvelously written lyrics) the way the soundscapes do. Although there are more instruments being utilized, there is also more space being utilized, letting Bones’s voice float around the way it should.
Furthering the case that Bones should not fill up all the space within the track, his CMJ show consisted of nothing but him and a guitar—and it went off without a hitch. Some of the lesser tracks on the album, such as “One Moment’s Peace”, contain a certain integrity they don’t have on the record. I know artists are compelled to get a specific “sound” in the studio, but Bones never seems to be following his intuition.
That’s not to say A Fool for Everyone is a below-sub-par record by any means. Its just that there is more potential for these songs than he allowed them to have. This is a wonderful beginning to a hopefully prolific career. If he’s set on going down the road of traditional songwriting, then he has laid a solid foundation for proceeding, although it would be tremendously interesting to find his sound leading him in a variety of directions for albums to come.