Music

The Von Bondies: Pawn Shoppe Heart

Justin Cober-Lake

The Von Bondies

Pawn Shoppe Heart

Label: Sire
US Release Date: 2004-03-09
UK Release Date: 2004-02-09
Amazon
iTunes

Let's start out by agreeing to quit talking about the Von Bondies in reference to Jack White. White may have co-produced the band's first album, Lack of Communication, and he might have brought them some bizarre publicity by punching vocalist, guitarist, and primary songwriter Jason Stollsteimer in the face, but that's all in the past now. Pawn Shoppe Heart effectively puts the music first and makes the music -- and not the history -- the newsworthy story.

We can't ignore all the history around the Von Bondies, though. The new album's sound owes enough to its roots to warrant discussion. The Bondies come out of the hot Detroit scene, and critics have latched on to the garage sound associated with other, unmentionable bands at the forefront of that style. It's an insult to suggest that these two men and two women can be summed up with references to Detroit, Mick Collins, and the like. Pawn Shoppe Heart features as much glam as grit, sitting on the borderline between '00s Motown and '70s New York punk. The Von Bondies play like the New York Dolls with less makeup and more soul.

Stollsteimer's voice focuses many of the tracks on the band's major label debut. He cites Otis Redding and Eric Burdon (The Animals) as early influences. His voice and presentation don't reflect these singers as much as his ability to emote without becoming theatrical does. He's direct and expressive without whining or turning maudlin. Occasional echo effects have been added to the vocals, creating a successful sound that suggests the Von Bondies' desire to move past a true minimalist garage sound.

Marcie Bolen's guitar-playing remains true to its tradition. Bolen frequently drives the music by rapidly down-picking some basic chords. She shows restraint on her rare solos and keeps her lead-work tight. Her guitar's slightly fuzzed out, but with a full tone. Although Bolen and Stollsteimer's six-strings drive the songs, they don't steal the show.

The track "Been Swank" best reveals the Von Bondies' aesthetic. Don Blum's drums and Carrie Smith's bass open the track before a loud, steady guitar joins in. The almost cymbal-free drums keep the beat with few flourishes as Stollsteimer raggedly sings, intelligibly, but without too much consideration for enunciation. The song has a classic rock feel, but the lyrics are up-to-the minute. The title puns on Ben Swank's name, a member of the Soledad Brothers and a Detroit scenester. Stollsteimer nods to the past and present, growling, "I've been swank and loving it." The shift in verb tense, like the song as a whole, betrays a focus that's split between the sounds of both the old and new. The Von Bondies pull together these different concerns suprisingly well not only on "Been Swank", but also throughout this cohesive album.

The first single, "C'mon C'mon" rocks harder and more accessibly. Stollsteimer's questions ("Will I never learn?") are answered by Bolan and Smith's entreating calls of "C'mon, c'mon." "Tell Me What You See" follows, and it promises to be a big hit, with it's intense boy-girl vocals and throwback guitar lines. As much promise as the two tracks have has single, they fit together even better with their natural flow on the album. "Been Swank" comes after them to change the pacing, but not the intensity. Pawn Shoppe Heart is an album that warrants beginning-to-end play.

Stick around for the hidden track at the end of the album, too. It's a garage cover of Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" that merges R&B with Doors-like sound. I can tell if it's exactly good, but it's hard to say anything bad about a track that makes me think of the Vines' Craig Nicholls singing about a girl who gets woolly.

Early in the album, Stollsteimer sings that "No one takes you seriously when you're 24," but anyone dismissing the Von Bondies is missing the boat. Pawn Shoppe Heart is a record as relevant for its divergences as well as it's similarities to the scene it arose from, and, in case it matters, this record is more fun to listen to than Elephant. Sorry, but it had to be said.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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