The Other End of the Spectrum
Yesterday I was reminiscing about all the albums I have so far reviewed for PopMatters. When I started here, I had no idea of the tons upon tons of discs that were released not only by the recognizable labels, but just by people in general. There have been the amazing highs (Those Peabodys, Amanda Thorpe, coco b’s basement songs, Tik N’ Tak, Theselah), the inspired, if not always solid, middle ground (Pookey Bleum, Love Camp 7, Dryspell), and of course, the bottom of the barrel (Oval-Teen, Flybanger, Dog Fashion Disco, Beans). Little did I know back only a few months ago that there would be so many levels of good, bad, and in-between. Just when I thought I heard the best album of the year, there was one to take its place. Likewise, as soon as I was sure I had just heard the most god-awful album there could ever be, I’d be proven wrong. Unfortunately, I was proven wrong many times over, unlike the albums in the great pile that stayed in a relatively small number.
I remember faulting Oval-Teen because as a lo-fi group they didn’t really have their act together, and as a band all around, they were lacking in more ways than one (singing and musical ability only being a couple problems). Then there was Theselah who recorded their recent album entirely on a four-track recorder and came out with stunning results that I am still drooling over to his day. It would seem that perhaps (and that is a perhaps) in the lo-fi world, there isn’t quite as large a middle ground. In my experiences so far, I have either really liked a lo-fi band’s release, or just dismissed in entirely.
Well, here we are with The Bridge and Tunnel Club’s Songs for Carpetbaggers Come and Gone. The band is from Astoria, Queens and has created here a collection of 10 tunes recorded “on a computer, four-track cassette recorder and hand-held cassette recorder”. And now for the Cliff’s Notes assessment of this disc: It truly is the worst album I have heard this year, bar none. Continue reading along if you’d like to know exactly why.
First off, there’s the entire sound of the album itself. I’m not sure which parts were recorded on the computer (unless it’s those cell phone sound effects going off at the beginning of “Tattoo”), but all of it sounds like it was done on that hand-held recorder that they mentioned. Everything sounds like it was recorded fifty miles away. The vocals are always too muffled, or mumbled. The guitars sound like the amps were hidden in a tin can. And the drumming is probably some of the worst I’ve ever heard (the only person I can immediately think of who was any worse is me when I was first bashing the kits back in high school). That about covers all the bases.
The lead singing is split between Scott Sendrow and Marya Sea Kaminski. Kaminski is bad because she’s one of these “singers” who thinks she’s carrying a tune, but in all truth is about two keys off on every song. Sendrow is guilty of poor vocalizing because he can’t ever seem to raise his voice above a mumble and take his lips off the mic. Even when I had the disc cranked (and if there was ever a disc you wouldn’t want to crank, it’s this one), I had a hard time making out just what was being said. And even though Kaminski is trying to sing here, she’s just as guilty of being unintelligible as she doesn’t sing loud enough, but sounds like she stood 50 feet back from the mic all the time. Ah well, at least there’s a lyric sheet on the band’s website.
Not that even that matters when you finally get to read what the lyrics are. Here’s a sample from “Tattoo”: “We both dated people with tattoos / Even though we both hate tattoos / We both dated people who smoked a lot of pot / Even though we don’t smoke pot / And we don’t smoke pot, we don’t smoke pot / We don’t smoke pot, we don’t smoke pot / And of course we tried to smoke some pot / Even though we both hate, we both hate pot / But we both just stopped short of getting a tattoo”. Either the band here is lying, and they smoked bag upon bag of pot, resulting in these tremendously bad lyrics, or they need to take it up in hopes that they might write better ones.
Then there’s “Reissue” where Sendrow can’t get his mouth to open very wide to get the words out. The song is subtitled “(Song about the idea of getting back together)”. I guess they want you to know this, otherwise their song might not be as “clever” as they probably think. “I can’t say it’d be any different / But I’m drawn back to you / You used to be my favorite record / Now you’re a brilliant reissue / I can’t say it sounds different / But it draws me back to you / New liner notes and bonus tracks, remastered sound / It’s the soundtrack to the decade that I still want around”. Wake me when it’s over, OK?
The music itself sounds like any teenager’s garage band just starting out that you’d care to find in any neighborhood. Scott Sendrow (guitar), Luke Bruneaux (drums, keyboards, guitars), and Manlio LoConte (bass, programming, E-bow) just don’t sound like they give a damn if their music sounds good or not (Kaminski is charged only with singing and doing the CD’s artwork). They have a bunch of those thin sounding brang-brang guitars with no real sense of rhythm (Bruneaux doesn’t help any with his time keeping that does anything but), sounding only a notch or so tighter than the Shaggs. Their publishing company is called “Effortless Music”. That’s right on the money, if nothing else is true about this album.
“Arizone Rock Products Association” is probably the worst song here, with Kaminski trying to hold down the tune and Sendrow mumbling as usual. Some god-awful Casio piano tinkles on obnoxiously in the right speaker while the guitars do their best attempt at the Velvet Underground. The lyrics, once again, are bad, climaxing in a joke about Bruce Springsteen that’s about the most 2nd grade I’ve heard all year: “And when he wakes up with the sheets soaking wet / You wonder what the fuck he meant by that”. Well, no, it was always pretty obvious to me and probably most other people, but in the heads of this band it becomes another excrement joke. I’m not much of a Boss fan, but dammit, don’t poke fun when this is the best you can do.
Just stay away from The Bridge and Tunnel Club. Otherwise, you’ll be faced with all the aforementioned songs, plus other terrible tunes like “Dance Club” and “Urinal”. The lyrics are always about things the band either stereotypes into oblivion or just were never cool enough to be a part of (you read through all the songs and wonder if there’s someone out there the band doesn’t dislike). The music, a quick descent into a lackluster hell that doesn’t deserve even three listens (I gave it a few more since I wanted to get the full flavor of the disc; now I can’t get the taste out of my mouth). Cross this bridge and pay the toll. But as the old hit goes “Don’t pay the ferryman/Until he gets you to the other side”.