by Jeremy Hart


Just goes to show how small the world’s gotten: even kids from the reportedly music-starved oasis of Salt Lake City love Fugazi. “No School,” if you can overlook the whacka-chicka effect on the guitars, could be right off Red Medicine—except that, like the rest of the songs on the album, it sounds as if it’s been filtered through the heads of a bunch of guys from the sticks. I can pick out countryish traces of The Grifters on here right alongside the more urban sounds of Jane’s Addiction (you don’t get more urban than L.A.; “One Three Five” sounds a bit much like “Coming Down The Mountain,” to me, but hey, I always liked that song anyway). And going from the country to the city is what this album’s all about, unless I miss my guess; on the one hand, you’ve got off-kilter start-stop guitars, but then on the other there’s a rough, backwoodsy edge to things.

“No Cop No Stop” is pretty good evidence of the combination—sure, they’ve got the Minutemen thing going, guitar-wise, but just the title of the song says country backroads, at least to me. I mean, c’mon, how many people who spend their lives in the city know that phrase? Beyond that, a number of the songs mention driving in a car, the ragged “Country” going so far as to come out and declare that the plan is to “ride around the country / see some history.” The album feels like a journey that almost mirrors the band’s life so far—from the wide-open space of Salt Lake City to the cramped, nonstop claustrophobia of New York City.

“West Side Hwy” has to be the high point on here, a quiet, haunting song that would probably work great as a soundtrack for driving some dark night when you don’t want to feel any better. A subtle slide-guitar complements singer Spanky Van Dyke’s (his nickname, not mine) echoey voice nicely, both of them sounding together like wheels drifting across the pavement under the stars. “Nightlife” is the flipside of the equation, a jerky car chase through seedy city streets at 5 a.m., past broken glass and long-gone friends with sampled city sounds as accompaniment. Further on, “R Is For Rocket” hits almost the same melancholy note as “West Side Hwy,” but is definitely a ‘city’ song, all musings on modern society and satellite technology. So which wins, the countryside or the urban landscape? They’re two sides of the same coin, I suppose, and if there’s a point to this at all, maybe it’s that neither place is necessarily better than the other.

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