PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Chomsky: Let's Get to Second

Gary Glauber

Chomsky

Let's Get to Second

Label: Aezra
US Release Date: 2004-05-18
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

The road to success in the music business is unknowable. A lucky few manage it, whilst countless others compile tales of trying to reach that magic goal. For the talented Dallas-bred band of self-proclaimed computer geeks/musicians known as Chomsky, there are hopes that the third time will be the charm.

After two critically praised and self-funded albums on local Dallas indie label Idol Records, the band has slimmed down to a quartet and signed on with Arizona-based Aezra Records, a larger indie with far better methods of distributing the music to a wider audience. The hope is that Let's Get to Second will indeed propel them a bit farther along in their quest.

Let's Get To Second features four re-recorded songs from those first two albums (three from Onward Quirky Soldiers and one from A Few Possible Selections for the Soundtrack of Your Life) and eight new tracks. On board to help with production duties is Gary Katz, who was instrumental early on in Steely Dan's career. Katz (and former Talking Head Jerry Harrison, who helped in the mix as well) seems to prefer a more uniform "in-your-face" take on the mixes. The guitars get less emphasis on some songs this way, but the additional polish focuses more on the raw energy of the music (making the songs perhaps a tad more commercial radio-ready). Chomsky never lacks for vitality; indeed the syncopated punch is their stock-in-trade.

Their sounds remain very much an updated version of Drums And Wires-era XTC, with traces of the Police and the Cars thrown in for good measure. There's also a healthy bit of Weezer geek rock influence, the anger of a young Elvis Costello, and the pure vigor of more modern components like Blink-182 or Ultimate Fakebook.

"Light" leads off the proceedings, a song about asking for honesty amid deceptions and falsehoods, a cry for purity in a corrupt world: "Give it to me all at once / Hit me with your strong full force / Pain will wash everything gone / And I'll keep moving on rest assured / I won't slow down / I will run". It's a more forceful and upbeat version than on their previous record. Here is guitarist/lead vocalist Sean Halleck doing his update on Andy Partridge, Glen Reynolds and his superb lead guitar doing his Dave Gregory, James Driscoll doing his Colin Moulding on bass and Matt Kellum approximating Terry Chambers' power drumming.

"Animal" is a direct tribute to Andy Partridge (and his song "Newtown Animal in a Furnished Cage" off XTC's White Music), lamenting the evils of a heartless society blinded by bling-bling's shine that overbuilds and over-reacts without clear reason: "Buildings fill the sky / In steel birds I'll fly / Empty the sea, fell every tree and don't bother asking why".

The popular Chomsky anthem "00:15:00" (a.k.a. "Fifteen Minutes to Rock") is back again, re-recorded to better reflect its inimitable vigor. This is a fun song (though the band might be getting sick of it by now), driven by Halleck's emotive vocals and Reynolds' great, often dissonant percussive guitar work. This is rock as universal panacea, and you can't deny a line like "I am only happy when it's possible".

"Gravitate" is also back, another re-done infectious little ditty that builds slowly as it plays lyrically with possible sexual metaphors: "Get good elevation feel burn in your spark / Move in all directions laughing in the dark / What you do to me / Sweet sharp sheen you float telepathically / Overshot the window, overshot the mark". The song, from Chomsky's first record "Sigmund", gets a nice overhaul here. Reynolds does an incredible job of using his guitar like a percussion instrument (in a very early XTC-way) -- and he drives the song just as much as Kellum does on drums. The vocals are great, and Chomsky manages to create the type of sound you thought was lost decades ago.

"Escape" is a little less XTC, a little more the Police and the Cars, with vocals up front and synth sounds contributing more to the overall mix. "Fine" has more attitude than one usually finds in a single, and tons more syncopated rhythm. Halleck again sells the song with great vocals.

There's a short Beach Boys' type harmonic lead-in to "Doves", one of the songs that strays a bit from the drums and wires formula. Here, the mix emphasizes the vocals and harmonies, the guitar played down as integral part of the whole, for a muddier yet more modern commercial rock sound. It's an interesting departure, but it works.

Reynolds' guitars are back in force in "Over", another song seemingly geared toward the listening mainstream. Halleck's vocals are very out front, more in the style of Fountains of Wayne, and the song features more clever lyrics, infectious melody and hooks galore.

"Whippoorwill" brings Chomsky back to that XTC-syncopated sound (hard to do, kudos to Kellum and Driscoll), with Halleck shouting out his lead vocals effectively. "Clockwork" seems a lesser song here, decent enough and geared toward being commercial, but in comparison to the others it falls short except when rescued by Reynolds' guitars.

"Circle" completes the CD, an extended jam of a song that reminds me stylistically of XTC's "Roads Girdle the Globe". There's just enough dissonance and rhythmic swagger here -- but those who aren't fans of that sound might not stick around for the full six minutes.

I remain a big fan of that sound (it was the percussive guitar work that first got me interested in XTC). Chomsky present an impressive updating of that sound, and do so with clever lyrics and smart arrangements. They aren't a complete secret, having won awards for Album of The Year and Best Rock/Pop Act from The Dallas Observer. In fact, just recently, the song "00:15:00" was picked up for use by the Dallas Cowboys in their pregame television show. If they are indeed America's team, could widespread acceptance of Chomsky be far behind?

Halleck knows their music is eclectic. "We're too indie for mainstream and too mainstream for indie", he notes. Yet he and the band seem happy located in that musical limbo. While some fans might feel the content contains a little too much recycled from previous efforts, Let's Get to Second remains a solidly impressive effort toward gaining that wider audience this talented band truly deserves.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.