As Walt Whitman noted in Song of Myself #51, “I am large, I contain multitudes”, and it not only holds true for the poet, but for Brooklyn psych-pop quartet Mink Lungs. On their sophomore album and Arena Rock debut, I’ll Take It, the band—bassist Miss Frosty (AKA Jennifer Hoopes), guitarists/half-brothers Gian Carlo and Tim Feleppa, and drummer Tom Galbraith—has divvied up songwriting/vocal chores and couched it all in an amalgam of fuzzed-out guitars, tinkling pianos and sundry bleeps ‘n’ bloops, with no two songs sounding alike. While such an unorthodox approach to songcraft would pull most bands apart at the seams, I’ll Take It finds Mink Lungs taking their fractured sensibility to new heights.
I’ll Take It comes on their heels of the band’s DIY debut, the hotly tipped but little-heard (outside of Brooklyn) The Better Button, which was recorded on cassette 8-track and a half-inch 8-track machine. While that record had its charms and earned the band deserved accolades in indie press outlets, I’ll Take It was recorded in actual studios with actual producers/engineers (Scott Norton and Ray Ketchum) and provided the band the opportunity to develop fuller-sounding songs. The sonic upgrade has paid off, as Mink Lungs have turned in the year’s freakiest, silliest head trip.
For all the topics Mink Lungs tackle—UFOs, bad neighbors, pyromania—it’s maybe a little surprising that they’re at their best performing Miss Frosty’s giddy love songs. Her “Awesome Pride” and “Catch Me” count as both the album’s most straightforward and best songs. In the former, the narrator experiences the titular emotion over the fact that “you’re my man” and confesses that her new squeeze is “the hottest things since I used my finger”, and then is joined by said boyfriend who notes, “my pants felt warm and tight”, over a slick surf guitar. (NB: When I say “straightforward”, I mean by the band’s bizarre standards.) Meanwhile, “Catch Me” is a head-on collision of ‘70s wah-wah funk and a waltz (!), and reveals Frosty’s heart isn’t as cold as her moniker might suggest: “Catch me in the throes of you”.
But that said—and as catchy as those songs are—the band’s reputation and frequent comparisons to Ween, the Pixies and the Flaming Lips wasn’t built on mild lewdness and charming hipster love songs; it was built on weirdness, which I’ll Take It has in spades. Album opener “Black Balloon” defies thematic description, but features a jangly, fuzzy guitar and Tim Feleppa’s sinister half-spoken vocals, which fall somewhere between Tom Waits’s growly/rumbly mode and Kurt Wagner’s breathlessness. It’s weird, but catchy, existing just short of that rarefied air reserved for the Pixies’ Doolittle and the Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin. That level is where Mink Lungs have their aim set, but their weirdness isn’t as focused, funny, or big-hearted enough to enter that pantheon.
But they can’t be faulted for trying. “Pugnose Apt.” opens with an angry voice mail left by “Victoria” for “Robert” about an email cc’ed to “Andy” (Think Kathleen Hanna’s answering machine opener to “Heartbeat” from Mike Watt’s Ball-Hog or Tugboat meets Dilbert). Your guess is as good as mine as to who these people are or why the cc’ing of emails is so catastrophic, but it sums up the insular, oft-impenetrable world in which the band lives. Fortunately, they change gears and the tune becomes an ode to a bad neighbor, with tinny vocals, a shredding guitar solo, and finally an Eastern-tinged coda. Trippy—and all in the span of three-and-a-half minutes. Meanwhile, “Sensual Pleasure” updates the name-dropping Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper”, Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” and the Nails’ “88 Lines About 44 Women” with xylophones, harp (!), and Miss Frosty’s heavy bass line. “Dishes” tells the story of a restaurant dishwasher who burns down a frat house, then, guilt-ridden, finds his hands can never come clean. It reads like a rejected Twilight Zone spec script, but it’s one of Mink Lungs’ better forays into Pixies-like oddball character portraits. The band even dives into country on “Sad Song of Birds”, a feat even more impressive given the group’s proclivity for urban/extraterrestrial sounds.
Not every experiment works, though. They lose me when they veer too far into prog territory (the Lambchopian “Bunny Bought a Spaceship” and “Flying Saucer Home”), and while “Men in Belted Sweaters” features one of I’ll Take It‘s better greasy guitar riffs, the song is just so much wheel-spinning. Ditto for the punk rave-up, “Mrs. Lester”. But here’s the upswing: With 17 tracks spread over 44 minutes, the listener is rarely more than two minutes away from a new song; there are no bloated prog opuses here.
Mink Lungs may not play in Peoria (literally or figuratively) but in a strong recent streak of NYC rock—Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, Ted Leo, etc.—Mink Lungs happily embrace the role of the oddballs in the corner cracking private jokes.
// Notes from the Road
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