If justice exists, All City Affairs' multi-genre mash-ups will be the sleeper hit of 2006.
Almost exactly one year ago in an interview with Peter Andreadis, I gushed and raved over Bees, an album recorded under his project moniker All City Affairs. One of the year’s very best, I swore up and down. The problem however, was that it hadn’t been widely released, making me a fool! A fool, I say! But Bees is finally seeing the light of day, and I’m happy to report that all prior hyperbolic statements are as true today as they were then. Bees is an eclectic but coherent set of songs, belying heavy fixations on funk, reggae, rock, electronica, and jazz, with an emphasis on solid craftsmanship and songwriting. From cover to content there is no false advertising. The colorfully illustrated artwork depicts mail and cargo trucks headed for collision, a flower selling pushing his wares down the sidewalk in a wheelbarrow, and a bellhop watching a taxi careen down the street: truly all city affairs. And despite the loopy, danceable exteriors of Andreadis’s compositions, the songs explore the mundane details of life one doesn’t normally expect to hear in pop music.
The protagonist in “Man of Modern Times” declares the album’s thesis with, “I dream of living lightly/ But I can’t make up my mind,” echoing the sentiments of young city-dwellers everywhere, surrounded by unlimited choices in art and commerce. “Today I’m going to do my part/ To be a productive member of society”, he declares, which ends up meaning, “Get my haircut at the salon/ Cough up 20 dollars for a shampoo.” It sounds like a joke, especially as synths bleep and bloop in the background, but it’s not, or at least not quite. Neither is it a strict indictment of “what’s wrong with the world.” All City Affairs’ songs fall somewhere between comedy and commentary. And by singing and writing without self-righteousness or self-pity, Andreadis sidesteps the usual pitfalls that have collected so many others trying to make sense out of this crazy, crazy world. “I changed my shoes from Nikes/ Cause they exploit child labor and I’m not down with it/ No more red meat with my meals/ Cause my daddy’s daddy died of an exploding heart”, he sings, but accompanying harmonized falsetto “oohs” and “aahs” pull the rug out from under any accidental moralizing. The song, apart from being fun and catchy, is about how one individual chooses to spend their time and money. By using specifics (getting regular test results for syphilis, working out at the gym), the song exposes just how many such choices we’re confronted with every day.
“Fake Soul Singer” also examines the phenomenon of overwhelming choice, this time through the endless stream of rancid popular music saturating all media. The song blames the fake soul singer of the title, hippie chicks, and “fake hillbillies... playing the part of hipster hicks” for “making the whole world sick". It’s more accusatory than “Man of Modern Times”, but no less charming for its humor. Andreadis’ doesn’t condemn style or production values, but rather the insincerity of a watered-down music market, with its suburban gangstas and reality-show suck-ups. “Fake Soul Singer” itself rides a reggae beat peppered with electronic gurgles and squawks, mashing up a variety of sounds to support Andreadis’s clean, direct delivery. A part-time DJ, and full-time drummer for Chicago trio Baby Teeth, Andreadis delights in drawing from a wide range of genres and textures, from the horn driven “Grease Up the Rod” to the doo-wop flavors of “Fuss and Fight” to the crazy drum fills on the instrumental title track.
So it’s appropriate that “How to Sell a Product” breaks a music lover’s heart with its clear-eyed view of advertising strategy, “Some torch song will shine the light/ On everything you’ve felt in your life/ And on some drunken night you will identify with someone’s CD/ This is how you sell your product to me.” The exploitation of desire is definitely this bee’s stinger, but it’s also an admittedly attractive flower. “Come on and join the club/ And be one of those people that you’d love to be,” Andreadis sings on the bridge, echoing Darth Vader, “Hey now child/ Don’t be scared /It’s your destiny.” We’re all disgusted by excess, but selling out also has undeniable appeal, if for no other reason than its promises of care- and worry-free indulgence. Materialism is the Dark Side for All City Affairs, and in all city affairs, and it’s these depths that Bees plumbs with great mischief and melody. “How can I avoid becoming another asshole/ With some truly unwanted comment about the kind of car that I drive?”, he croons, and even the best of us can sympathize.