Band spin-offs are a lot like TV spin-offs, in that you have certain ones that are exceptionally amazing and overshadow the show they spun off of (i.e. Benson, Law & Order SVU, The Colbert Report) or totally should have never left the conference room think tank (Three’s A Crowd, Joanie Loves Chachi, I Love New York).
As a spin-off of the Murder City Devils, Seattle art-punkers Pretty Girls Make Graves, on the other hand, were more of a Mama’s Family type of band, in that I’d watch the pedestrian Carol Burnett offspring if it was on television, but would never schedule my night around it like I do with The Office.
I mean, ever since I caught Slug rocking a Pretty Girls Make Graves shirt at an Atmosphere concert at the Knitting Factory a couple of years back, that band’s name had always stuck out in my mind. Their music, however, not so much, perhaps with the exception of their 2002 LP Good Health for the sadly-defunct Lookout! Records label. I mean, if I want to rock out to a arty power pop band with a thick cutie for a lead singer, I’ll just break out my faithful copy of Letters to Cleo’s Aurora Gory Alice, which displays far better songwriting chops than anything PGMG have mustered in their seven-odd years together. And I might be in the minority here, but I certainly did not shed a tear upon the news of their disbandment earlier this year (sorry hipsters).
But as a spin-off of a spin-off, The Cave Singers, the roots-centric folk band started by Derek Fudesco of both PGMG and MCD fame, is pure Good Times in that it overshadows not only the band it has spun off of, but its genesis as well (that is, of course, if Pretty Girls were Maude and Murder City was All In The Family).
Seemingly taking its cues from the number of joints rolled on somebody’s copy of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, the Cave Singers’ impressive debut Invitation Songs clearly aims to meander in an entirely different direction than the guitar-heavy impetuses of Fudesco’s previous pair of sonic endeavors. Utilizing such unpunk instruments as banjos, washboards (occasionally played on here by PGMG vixen Andrea Zollo) and melodica (but not in any way like Augustus Pablo), Invitation Songs barely have the sleeve space to hide their influences here. Any learned music fan can instantly recognize the ghosts of such roots-tastic classics as Ugly Casanova’s Sharpen Your Teeth, Violent Femmes’ Hallowed Ground and even Sixteen Horsepower’s Sackcloth & Ashes that pop up in some way, shape or form throughout this ten-song sentiment (thanks in part to frontman and former Hint Hint singer Pete Quirk’s nasally delivery, which comes off strangely enough both everything and nothing like that of either Isaac Brock, Gordon Gano, or David Eugene Edwards, respectively).
And while Invitation Songs does not quite achieve the air of authenticity reached by the aforementioned trifecta of classic records, it certainly gets an A for effort upon hearing such key tracks as “Elephant Clouds” and “Royal Lawns”, both of which bristle with pure rustic charm and backwoods sentiment. But still, for as good as Invitation Songs may be, you can still tell that these are young, modern guys who used to do post-punk attempting to sound all old-timey and Guthrie-esque—albeit played quite well, mind you.
At any rate, Invitation Songs is one of the most genuine pieces of new music to come out of the hipster-infested woods in all of 2007. I can’t wait to see what this most worthwhile spin-off of a spin-off has in store for next season.