Academy Fight Songs
This release combines two of my favorite rock music collecting quirks: bands with names that change like snowshoe hares, and odds ‘n’ sods compilations. Superficial I know, and it wouldn’t mean squat if the band didn’t warrant both the vast accumulation of monikers (including The Panoply Academy Glee Club, Corps of Engineers, and Legionnaires), and the loving attention of a retrospective. But the Academy delivers, its loose ends corralled and twined together in the form of Everything Here Was Built to Break.
The album is organized in reverse chronological order, starting with three unreleased tracks that belong to a “lost album” by the Legionnaire configuration, recorded in 2001. Following these are two more songs from the session that ended up as the 7” “Nocturnally Yours”/ “Diurnally Yours”. Of these, “Nom de Plume” reminds me quite a bit of Modest Mouse, mostly due to Darin Glenn’s quavering vocal, but doesn’t suffer for it. Such comparisons melt away over time. “Comfort” is similarly shaky and spastic before dissolving into a quiet hum. The songs, with their shifting, seemingly unstable time signatures, aren’t weighed down by grandiose orchestration. These puppies are lean. Even the eight-minute “Please Stray/Look Us in the Eyes” refuses to push its luck. It charges ahead through several transformations and remains engaging and listening.
“Diurnally Yours” features the honk of Pete Schreiner’s trumpet at its outset, and is a tight little piece of rock, though it still manages to throw everything it can at you. In keeping with the order of Everything, it’s the b-side presented first. “Nocturnally Yours”, as its title suggests, sounds every bit the night to its flipside’s day. Revving guitar and machine-gun snare drilling in the first few moments belie the more laid-back, swaggering verses. It’s the first time Panoply’s lyrics seem to call attention to themselves, “In these microscopic moments / We can only hope that the soldiers / Follow our example / And assume the passive posture.” Recorded at the turn of the century (can it now be said?) in 2000, who can imagine what kind of connotations the song elicited upon its initial release. But it should be said, Panoply songs aren’t lyric driven by any stretch of the imagination. Words and phrases bleat out of the squall of “What We Deserve” and even struggle to fight their way out of covers of Supertramp’s “Dreamer” and Nick Drake’s “Harvest Breed”.
The m.o. for the Panoply Academy, in all its forms, seems to have been to squeeze every ounce of worth out of all the musicians at all times, even when their instruments were quiet, or put down, for the moment. Kinetic skronk like the Glee Club’s “The Acquisition” is full of tight holes and pockets that live between the drums, guitar, yelping. Then after two minute, the tide recedes into measured nervousness. One of the earliest tracks here, 1997’s “The Administration” begins in relatively straight-forward fashion, before sounding like it’s being thrown against a wall, or an ant on the rim of a bicycle wheel that’s just been hand-spun. Some call it math-rock, but that doesn’t make sense to me. I hate math. Art-damaged noise? That description reeks of the unnecessary, or a bunch of assholes trying to pull a fast one on you. But Everything Here Was Built To Break is just an odd document of an odd collective, playing odd songs in their own odd way. On the last track here, “We”, which features delightful “chanting by the P.A. Holler Squad,” it is announced that “We spoke the right words to turn the right heads towards the We.” The world of independent rock can be a cruel cruel mistress, but at the end of this run, the lines ring true.