Music

Peter Wolf Crier: Inter-Be

Photo: Darin Back

While Peter Wolf Crier live in-between here -- between past and future, old sounds and new, experiment and structure -- the songs are too immediate to get lost in the shuffle.


Peter Wolf Crier

Inter-Be

US Release: 2010-05-25
Label: Jagjaguwar
UK Release: 2010-06-07
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Peter Wolf Crier -- the Midwestern duo made up of Peter Pisano and Brian Moen -- are really on to something with the title of their first record. That made up phrase, Inter-Be, goes a long way in describing what's going on in this record. It covers not only the sonic landscape here, which echoes both back into the past and forward into tomorrow, but also the emotion of the record and, perhaps most interestingly, where their sound falls in today's musical world.

The duo's sound could -- repeat, could, were it made of lesser parts -- get lumped in with a bunch of indie heavyweights, relegated to being the guys that sound like someone we already know. To hear the way Pisano can hit a reverbed falsetto, and the ghostly space in his guitar work, certainly calls to mind fellow Midwestern outfit Bon Iver, and the gravelly curl he puts in his voice on "Down, Down, Down" bears more than a passing resemblance to M. Ward. Couple those sorts of moments with their folk-driven sound, and there's a real chance these guys could get lost in the shuffle.

Those comparisons are ours to set aside, not theirs to disprove, because Pisano and Moen have a sound that is, yes, very much a sound of today. But it also taps into sounds that have been around for ages, and the way they combine them on Inter-Be, the way they exist between the past and the present, is what makes these songs so arresting.

On one hand, the elements seem simple here: Pisano's echoed voice, the bluesy, low-end pluck of his guitar, Moen thundering on the drums deep down in the track, and some keys and vocals to fill in the chasm between them. However, the way they combine those elements, and the different paths they take with them, is the real success here. It's also what sets up this other feeling of being "inter", or being between.

This is an album of transition, to be sure. The excellent opener "Crutch & Cane" finds Pisano grasping at the past. "Where is my childhood begging to, please, stay?" he howls on the track, and the falsetto of the chorus that follows drives home the yearning in this song, if not to go backwards, at least to find a familiar comfort as he's cast into the unknown ahead. "Hard As Nails" follows with a sinister rumble, as Moen's tom-work on the drums churns the song up, capturing all of its dark searching. That wish for childhood gone unfulfilled, Pisano trudged forward, weary but pushing forward.

Perhaps the most interesting thing the guys do on Inter-Be is to take the same elements and somehow create a wholly different atmosphere as the album moves along. Those early songs are all hollow coolness. The space around them is dark and haunting, but as we get to the brilliant middle of the record, things start to warm up. Shuffling drums and layers of shimmering guitar build "For Now" up into a pastoral haze, while "You're So High" is a lazy, sun-drenched shuffle that anchors everything going on here -- the past now far in the rearview, and the unknown still coming.

By the time we get to the lively thump of closer "In Response", nothing is decided. The tomorrow that's always on the horizon isn't here yet, but the guys are stomping forward, the drums head-on, the guitar knocking out chords, the keys and backing vocals giving the track a shining size instead of a confused fog. It's a wordless catharsis we come to, one that may take some figuring out over many listens, but that is the reward for this album. It'll keep you coming back to pull out all it's blurry emotions, and the tiny corners of these songs they hide in, over and over again.

Inter-Be is, in short, a success in every way. Even track titles -- there's one called "Untitled 101" and another "Demo 01" -- imply a sort of path, a process for these songs. Make no mistake, though, this is not a work in progress. It is both path in themes and destination in how well those themes are executed. Pisano and Moen, as if they aren't living enough in that "inter" space on this album, also prove themselves both excellent songwriters and noise-smiths. Songs devolve into the simple pleasure of layered, keening vocals. The most far-off hiss, the distant ringing of a single note on a piano, the light brush of a snare -- they live in these details to pull out emotion and atmosphere, even as they craft tight pop songs full of sweet melodies and stick-in-your-head choruses.

So if the question is how do you stand out when you're building a world between two places -- between old sounds and new ones, between where you've been and where you're going, between experiment and structure -- it seems Peter Wolf Crier has the answer on Inter-Be. Just make your songs really, really good.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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