Music

The Saltshakers: A Beautiful Mess

Michael Franco

The Saltshakers try to tap into the long tradition of beautiful losers that hail from the Midwest. Ironically, they need a bit more polish to sound gloriously dilapidated.


The Saltshakers

A Beautiful Mess

Label: Top 5 Music
US Release Date: 2005-02-20
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

The Saltshakers are from the Midwest and they certainly know the musical mystique of their home territory. From the Replacements to Hüsker Dü to Soul Asylum to Guided by Voices, the Midwest has spawned some of rock's most gloriously shambolic bands, artists who weren't ashamed to be from what is now referred to as "flyover country" -- that big chunk of land in the middle of the States that isn't as economically exploitable as the coasts and, therefore, is destined to suffer from a geographic inferiority complex. Like these legends, the Saltshakers know there's a certain dilapidated splendor to the Midwest, a proud slouch that lends itself to tales of loss, disappointment, and self-destruction. And so, on the Milwaukee quartet's latest release is a picture of a wash machine in a laundromat, a symbol of mundane mediocrity, caught in gorgeous desaturated hues. How's that for lifting the ordinary to the mythic?

The Replacements specialized in this kind of fallen glory, and the Saltshakers list the Replacements as a primary influence. The connection, though loose, is apparent on A Beautiful Mess, a five-song EP and the band's first proper studio recording. Like their idols, the Satlshakers are rough, raw, and unpolished. The guitars sound slightly out of tune, and the solos sound improvised and in danger of collapsing. When the solos do, somehow, crawl to a resolution, it feels like the band got away with something, pulling off what they never planned to do in the first place. In other words, this is rock 'n' roll in its primitive form -- unpretentious and devoid of cutesy trappings. Yeah, you'll get a melody, but not until it's stomped on and scratched.

This approach both helps and hurts the Saltshakers' sound. Opening track "Amplified" is essentially a punk song adorned with lead guitar. Beginning with repetitive chord strumming and feedback, the song is both frenetic and frayed, a caustic mix of barre chords, squealing fills, and an unsteady solo. Primary singer and songwriter Chad Curtis writes about timeless rock themes: "So you're thinking what I'm thinking / I probably shouldn't be drinking..." While the song is catchy -- after repeated listens -- it sounds a bit too self-consciously rough, like the band would settle for nothing less than sloppy. Moreover, the solo, while melodic in that one-string Edge fashion, seems disjointed from the rest of the song, crammed in the confines of the break because, well, rock songs are supposed to have solos.

Other tracks are a similar mix of catchiness and missteps, mainly because they adhere to a template. "Been Here Before" begins with repetitive chord strumming and feedback before launching into screaming and then a wobbling, high-pitched solo. Man, we have been here before -- like three minutes ago. "Scream and Shout" is actually one of the more subdued songs, featuring a hooky bass line and a poppy refrain of "nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah... nah-nah-nah." Unlike the aforementioned songs, this one sounds cohesive. Likewise, "Wall to Wall" feels like a more evolved song, relying on melodic guitar work and a steady beat rather than the brute force of frantic strumming.

A Beautiful Mess is a promising start from a young band with both a sense of history and insuppressible enthusiasm. This is the kind of band you want to see live -- a band whose spontaneous energy is essential to truly connecting with their music. Unfortunately, such energy doesn't always translate in the studio, where everything is plotted and mapped out. Ironically, with a little more polish, the Saltshakers might sound more beautifully dilapidated. For now, we're left with just a semi-attractive mess.

5

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.

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.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image