Talkhouse Contributing Writer Zachary Lipez is the former singer for Freshkills and the current singer of Publicist UK. He writes the “Adult Problems” column for Noisey/VICE. He also contributes to Hazlitt, MySpace, and Vol.1 Brooklyn. His most recent book, with Nick Zinner and Stacey Wakefield, is Please Take Me Off the Guest List (Akashic Books, 2010). He tends bar at 124 Rabbit Club. You can follow him on Twitter here.
There’s an oft-quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson line about how “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” and while I’m actually fond of the goblin’s tricky cousin and make no claims about the enormity of my mind, I’m going to use that bad boy as my tombstone quote and hope it flies — at least as it pertains to my oft-self-quoted doggerel about ’90s revivalism: “I hate all this ’90s revival rock…none of these bands sound like Cop Shoot Cop.”
In a world of emo and college-rock revivalism and Nirvana worship, I’m a guy people walk away from — fast. I detest that shit. I was around for all that stuff the first time and it was a massive drag. So when people shove the newest guitar angst-y, hair-in-eyes atrocity before me and ask if it pleases me, I usually say: “This pleases me not a fucking bit…please bring me a Railroad Jerk tape.” But, you know, apparently, I’m wrong sometimes.
Chicago’s Meat Wave has a sound that conjures up the ’90s. To deny that fact is ridiculous. I am on record as rolling my eyes until I can taste them on the back of my tongue at bands like this, so why do I love Meat Wave’s new album, Delusion Moon? Why do I think it’s original and good — and why do I want to argue that it’s original and good, therefore rendering years of contempt invalid? Why would I risk abandoning my lucrative niche as “that dude who talks about the ’90s a lot but mainly to complain about new bands”? Because, as my peer and pal Emerson would say if he were both alive and writing about mid-level punk bands on the internet: consistency is for kobolds and first-level clerics and I’m a wild stallion of conflicted emotions, and because Delusion Moon is a paladin riding a dragon, razing the chaotic evil compound of my consistent loathing of all things not specifically to my previously stated liking.
To get this out of the way and to give Meat Wave’s label, SideOneDummy, a nice pull quote to toss in the “recommend if you like” part of its next ad in Alternative Press, Meat Wave sound like Drive Like Jehu on a Cheap Trick bender fronted by the dude from Treepeople. The Drive Like Jehu comparison is admittedly a bit of an albatross — bands that get compared to Drive Like Jehu almost always suck. They start! They stop! Oh shit, they stop-started again! But they never truly seem to stop. Most bands of this ilk don’t share Jehu’s love of rock & roll, and therefore rarely do either. Not so with Meat Wave. In every track on Delusion Moon, there’s melody, drive and a clear (if unpredictable) path from the beginning of a song to its end. As these boys are from Chicago, the olde time-y rock in their music could just be the result of listening to a lot of Naked Raygun and “My Brain Hurts”-era Screeching Weasel when they were growing up. The results are the same, no matter the influence. The songs are, within the confines of the genre, sexy. It feels like there’s sex and blood and loins and shit in the music.
Speaking of Chicago bands, the aforementioned Meat Wave-is-like-Cheap Trick comparison is to Cheap Trick’s first (self-titled) — and cruelest — album. That’s Cheap Trick’s Steve-Albini-in-short pants album (he was a teen when it came out in 1977, but you go and listen to it and try to be surprised that Big Black covered “He’s a Whore”), from which all the useless beauty of noise rock sprang. Cheap Trick’s “Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School” was the first Jesus Lizard song. And, no, comparing Meat Wave to Cheap Trick is not some arbitrary critical namedropping. From Cheap Trick’s not-discussed-enough influence on noise rock to Meat Wave’s use of high harmony backups and pretty, almost out of control guitars that are part Trick’s Rick Nielsen and part Bob Mould, the comparison works, dammit. Play Meat Wave’s “Cosmic Zoo” and “Sinkhole” next to Trick’s “ELO Kiddies” and “Cry, Cry.” And perhaps it’s Meat Wave’s ’70s Cheap Trick sound that makes me hate their ’90s influences less — although God knows liking Cheap Trick wasn’t enough to keep a ton of ’90s bands from being boring as shit. History sure is hard. Anyway.
Meat Wave singer Chris Sutter’s lyrics can be surprisingly sincere despite the almost Arab on Radar-like scabrous and nasal tone of his vocals. “Vacation” appears to be an ode to…going to a lake, and “Network” seems to be a genuine bemoaning of online alienation. Hell, they may even have a song (“Reunion”) about how band reunions are bad. I can’t imagine giving a shit about that, so I’ll either assume it’s about a disappointing romantic/friend reunion (sample lyric: “What’s lost is lost forever”) or, if it is actually about how that BOLD reunion failed to satisfy, Chris and I will just have to agree to disagree. I think reunions are fun, and if they don’t seem fun, I don’t go. Man doesn’t have to share my worldview, though. The song kills.
I can’t say enough good things about the music itself. Making rhythm in abrasive rock that can pummel enough to qualify in the shirtless-dude-shoving-Olympics and still have a degree of swing is no easy task. Drummer Ryan Wizniak has a lovely interplay with bassist Joe Gac that really slinks and shines, particularly on “Cosmic Zoo” and “Sinkhole.” It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say the rhythm section would fit within any of the better early ’80s goth/post-punk bands. The drums don’t slap you around; they help you apply your makeup like a sleazy gentleman, maybe tighten your corset if you’re into that sort of thing. On songs such as “Witchcraft” and “I Was Wrong” — which do the more typical Jehu/Lizard left-of-center groove — Wizniak and Gac show that they’ll still sit at the bar with you and talk about losing teams and the hardcore bands that they used to like. They’re just regular guys with a little Batcave in them. The only kind of regular guy I can stand.
I’m not going to tell you that Meat Wave is “better” than Cloud Nothings or Japandroids or Metz or a dozen other bands mining the ’90s vein that generally leave me cold. I, certainly, prefer Meat Wave. But maybe you like your ’90s vibe a bit more spot-on. Bully (literally) for you. And, of course, it’s terribly unfair to the aforementioned bands to just say, “Meat Wave is original and you are not.” It’s possible that Meat Wave is just either influenced by more bands that I’m not familiar with or, well, more bands that I like. Hell, maybe I like them because Chris Sutter doesn’t ram his “craziness” or misanthropy down the listener’s throat. He doesn’t seem weird, just massively disappointed, which is endlessly my lane. I don’t know why I love Meat Wave and don’t love your band. I just do. I’m a critical fraud, but, by God, at least I’m not a hobgoblin. I’m a proper goblin. In flannel.