Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hit You Where You Live

Bonus points for a Steve Martin parody album cover!
The Kinks. The Who. The Beatles. Pink Floyd. Alice Cooper. Mastodon. When I hear the phrase "concept album," these are the acts that immediately spring to mind. And whether it's The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society or Blood Mountain, these are the albums that always tend to stand out not just for their thematic cohesion, but for the genuine joy of the listening experience. They are grand, sweeping labors of love that remind us that the musical narrative is an art form as old as language itself.

Recently my fellow music geek Marc with a C has taken up the task of penning his own concept album, his own extended story in song. It is a tale of failed relationships, compulsions, indie rock angst, the internet and religious cults. So, yeah, it's kinda fucked up. Which only serves to make it all the more relatable.

Motherfuckers be Bullshittin' kicks off with super charming break-up anthem "Try to Just Stop," an amazing opener that sets the stage for our tale as Jenny Oliver expresses, in no uncertain terms, her dissatisfaction with her current beau. This transitions effortlessly to a chauvinistic rebuttal in the form of "You're My Princess." It's an important piece in establishing the personality of Brian, the album's chief protagonist, but sadly Marc sacrifices a bit of his typical songwriting savvy in order to properly channel his creation's surly attitude. Lyrically it comes off as low-hanging fruit, but musically it's an impeccable offering.

"Since I Left My Baby, I Can't Stop Flossing" marks the true build-up of Motherfucker be Bullshittin'. Combining a Replacements-style guitar hook and enchanting harmonies into another example of Marc's classic slice-of-life lyrical storytelling, it's an unlikely charmer about an all too likely heartbreak. "Goodnight, Miss Oliver," on the other hand, plays like an Elvis Costello b-side that never was. It mimics all the strength and energy of "Since I Left My Baby" but with an additional level of subtlety and uniquely pleasing doo-wop-style vocal layering as Brian tries to reconnect with his lost love via IM.

"Why are You Keeping Tabs on Me?" feels a bit uneven at times, but it builds to a desperate vocal crescendo that contrasts perfectly with the subtle jangle rock of its instrumental backing. The surreal collapse at the track's end marks a shift in tone to the unapologetically menacing "I am Going to Hit You Where You Live." Though not as strong as many of the album's other selections, it does ably set the stage for the power pop majesty of the title track.

Likely the best of the best, "Motherfuckers Be Bullshittin'" fares well both within the album and without. As Brian flirts with regret but refuses to let go of his anger, we are left to ponder his fate. At least within the arc of the album. As a standalone, however, the track just plays like another one of Marc's instantly enjoyable pop culture riffs, and it has quickly become my new favorite due in no small part to its outlandish outro.

Brian's unlikely salvation comes in the form of religion, though, as "Love My Little Squiddy" points out, it's not your typical hard luck conversion story. Amid church organs and what I reckon we can all agree is some delicious borderline sacrilege, Marc exposes us all to the gospel of Squiddy, a vaguely Cthulhoid being who reaches out to the needy from his icy prison. It's a nicely stripped down production that 's easily another of Marc's finest. It's also revealed in the waning moments that Brian has found another brand of hard-fought salvation, in this case in the form of music.

"The Kindergarten Steely Dan," is a delicate dirge for the struggling musician that winds down our tale with an amazing musical catharsis, but it does little to wrap up the story-proper. This task is instead handled by the back-porch boogie woogie of "Epilogue: Brian, Jenny & The Mayans." With a broken rhyme scheme and stream-of-consciousness lyrics, it’s a bit of an odd duck, but it closes our surreal story by reminding us that some relationships are doomed to fail. And also that the world isn't going to fucking end in 2012.

If pushed I'd say that Motherfuckers be Bullshittin' is a concept album that's occasionally a bit light on concept. The tale of Brian and Jenny is told in such a way that it often doesn't make a helluva lot of sense. Because, honestly, love seldom does. And yet an odd silver string of continuity runs through the songs themselves. Perhaps the lyrical content doesn't always provide enough cohesion of its own, but the beautifully crafted production, with its perfect transitions and gradual textural shifts, manages to hold it together exquisitely.

It's important to note that such profound narrative ambivalence isn't a detriment to the concept album. It is, instead, almost a legacy of the art form. Shit, fans have been debating the finer plot points of Welcome to My Nightmare for 36 years, and that's a project with both a dramatic full concert performance and a television special under its belt.

The narrative of Motherfuckers be Bullshittin' similarly leaves a lot of gaps to be filled within the mind of the listener, and, had it not been spelled out in the liner notes, I likely wouldn't have been able to piece together this tale of functional heartache myself. But while the songs of Motherfuckers be Bullshittin' might not always perfectly coalesce, they always manages to satisfy. And that's more than enough for me.

Available via Bandcamp for $5 (for just the digital version), $7 (for the downloads and a CD) or $14 (for both the aforementioned and a limited edition vinyl pressing), it's an easy recommendation for any budget. Give it a listen and pull together your own version of the story in this sharp twee-popera. That's half the fun. The other half is simply closing yours eyes and soaking up this musical masterpiece.

"The most punk rock thing to do is just be nice."

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