Upstairs in Your Room, the new record from Refrigerator, is a heavy and thoroughly satisfying appetizer that forces you to forego your main course, asking instead to have it bagged up to take home. It is the reason that some people become thoroughly obsessed with music. It is charming, smart, endearingly flawed, and is perfect to play first thing in the morning, loudly, or last thing at night, softly. It falls under the tag ‘indie rock’ and anyone who would like to pretentiously claim that term doesn’t mean anything is being far too literal. It can, and should be, a broad tag. Indie rock is the modern day folk music. To be more specific, imagine the feeling of those who heard folk music in the 1960s. We all hear about what it was like when Bob Dylan plugged in, but what about before that, when he was a kid with an acoustic guitar and direct lyrics to slay the average businessman? What did that feel like?
Okay, this is not to say that Refrigerator is close to Dylan, neither in style nor ebullient lyricism. This is rather an argument on the idea that a band such as Refrigerator can make a record in late 2004 that sounds as if it were made in 1994 and instead of being dated, it sounds like the rock and roll earnestness of bands like Guided By Voices, the Spinanes, or Sebadoh. It comments on the pure excitement of stumbling across the Breeders, Giant Sand, or Silkworm’s Developer. These bands all have in common their insistence on singing about loss, heartache, and the futility of just plain living. They all made clever jokes about their wry observations, but it was all without too much winking involved. Sure, there are not the politics involved with the original folk music scene in this country, but there’s also not the showcasing self-pity of one of indie rock’s offsprings, emo.
Upstairs in Your Room is a record of eleven very-good-to-great songs. There are references to addictions, suicide, failed relationships, wanderlust, and never ever getting it right. The CD opens with “Did your heart get taken the hard way?” (“Johnny Blaze”) and ends with “You’re no one’s now, you’re no one’s now again” (“Rudy Valentino”). The band - Allen Callaci (vocals), Dennis Callaci (guitar, vocals), Chris Jones (drums, piano), and Daniel Brodo (bass) - play as if they are the artiest bar band in the world. Nothing strays from the drunken rock sound, but Refrigerator is not going to cover “Louie, Louie” (hopefully) and no other bar band in your town will sing the lines “In a crown of smoke where noise was draped / As though it were silk / The two of you parted like a Moses ocean / Of blood and filth” (“A Crown of Smoke”). They are the poets in the corner of the bar, trying hard to ignore the frat boys at the pool table.
And what is the main course after Refrigerator? Well, only the greats: the Velvet Underground, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Springsteen to name a few. Refrigerator, and the bands mentioned in an above paragraph, are the quiet link that a generation of shy nerds were lucky to start discovering fifteen or so years ago. Upstairs in Your Room is proof, shambling and uneven, of the thrill of indie rock whispering its quiet power. This won’t appeal to everybody, although that’s a shame. The production is too muddy in this digital age, the vocals are sincere but odd (and shouldn’t be any other way), and a few songs end far too quickly. Sometimes, though, a band will let their heart come through, as it does one-hundred per cent of the time here, and that is all that matters. Refrigerator have added a minor classic to the canon and while there may be bands more cutting-edge to listen to right now, there probably are not a lot out there as unapologetically grounded in making solid music with a few basic instruments and some sad tales to tell. Upstairs in Your Room will break your heart, even as you soar with the freedom of it.