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The Alarmists: Disclosures For The Hollow Men

15 Jun

DSC_9818 copyThere are reasons that I shouldn’t write this. Chris Riemenschneider got the dirt and Andrea Swensson nailed the new record, The Overhead Left. After the release party at the Varsity last Friday, I guess that leaves me poetry, and history.

Because of those two things, there is nothing that I can say here that would be without bias. Bias is important in a critic’s world, the outing of it, the trafficking in it, the balance of it against objective knowledge to form opinions and judgments. So I’m not going to fight it. Here is a full disclosure of bias:

Disclosure 1: I knew the Alarmists before I ever even thought of writing about music. This shouldn’t preclude writing about their music, but it is important to disclose pre-existing relationships. The first time I saw them was Thanksgiving 2006 at First Avenue with Ike Reilly. This was just after A Detail of Soldiers came out, and I was blown away by the audacity of the record, the piercing clarity of the riffs, the grand layering of the keys. There was something subversive in calling your disc “A Detail of Soldiers” in the midst of two wars and not having any political overtones- it seemed to say that we were fighting for our own lives and that the battles of love and trust were important. Songs like “Hey Kid” were re-affirmations that change and heartbreak did not need to be the end of things, but could be the beginnings. It didn’t necessarily say any of that, but music will make you believe things, project yourself to feel connected. A friend of the girl I was seeing had gone to Augsburg College with Eric Lovold and introduced me to his parents that night. There is something about shaking a mans’ fathers’ hand that makes you feel entrusted.

Disclosure 2: The Alarmists are at least in part responsible for the fact that I have a girlfriend. In spring 2007, as a poor working stiff poet stumblebumming through life, I had developed a crush on a pretty photographer I had seen around town. Turns out she thought I was cute too, and when she found out I liked the Alarmists, made me her plus one for the White Light Riot CD release the Alarmists were playing as one of our first dates. She was there to shoot and we wound up in the green room at the Fine Line with the bands. Which was pretty awesome, though not as awesome as her. (Double disclosure duty: that pretty photographer is Staciaann of this website, and we’ve been together since.)

Disclosure 3: The Alarmists paid me. As Art Director for Staciaann Photography, the photography business of Staciaann of CakeIn15, I have received direct monetary compensation from the Alarmists (the amount is negligible.) It was in the period after The Ghost & The Hired Gun came out (double duty disclosure: Staciaann did the inside photography for The Ghost & The Hired Gun, she was called in at last minute after the Alarmists rejected the done by another local photographer) and the band needed new promo shots after drummer Ryan Mach was replaced by Derek Jackson. We took some standard shots of the band standing around and then orchestrated the shot of the band running, as if being chased by hordes of girls, a la British Invasion. In truth, they were being exhorted by me yelling something about the Blue Meanies coming after them as people stood and stared at this well-dressed group of young men doing a half-lap down Nicollet. They wound up using that shot as the cover for their 2008 tour EP that saw the first recording of “Cars Crashing” among other songs. The first time I heard that recording, I thought it sounded like something I would hear on KDWB or opening for Plain White T’s.

Disclosure 4: I heard some of the Andrew Lynch studio sessions. When the Alarmists were in studio with producer Andrew Lynch, producer who garnered plaudits for his work on Earlimart’s Hymn & Her, Staciaann was asked to come down and document, and I tagged along. I was hopeful that a new hand at the helm would shake up the sound the band had fallen into. The work on The Ghost & The Hired Gun had been over-burdened by production noodling and throwing the kitchen sink at every song, and their live shows had retained energy but become formulaic. Keyboardist Jorge Raasch and bassist Tony Najm, then members who are no longer in the new lineup, told me they felt like it was going really well, that there was some balance to the session and that something new was going to come out of it. They were laying down tracks for “The Elusive Mr. Albright” and it was coming together like some sort of brother to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky”, a rolling vision of a song layered with twitches and embellishments. It was warm and inviting, and when fleshing it out live, it seemed to have promise. That record never came out. I wish it had. Instead, Raasch, Najm and Jackson are out, and Lovold reformed the band with original members Ryan McMillan (an excellent guitar player who had left unexpectedly just before going into the studio with Lynch) and Joe Kuefler and new faces on keys, drums and bass, re-formed after City Pages had already posted a post-mortem on the band, calling them “The Best Local Band To Break Up In The Last 12 Months.”

There is the bias. Those are things that happened. What space is left, then, for me to talk about the CD release at the Varsity on Friday? Some doggerel I wrote in Craig Finn’s voice, patron saint of making it through strange times:

It’s so big and so boring./ The guys all got hair product and the girls all got jobs in marketing/ Maybe if I wasn’t trying to give up smoking/ it could be more relaxed.

The last time I saw the Alarmists play a really great show was in January at the 7th Street Entry where they reportedly broke up. They played like they didn’t give a fuck. Like it was alright to get hurt and live to tell about it. In the basement green room, some wag from a long past band had scrawled the last lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”: This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper. So go the Alarmists.

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  1. A Dozen Bits of Writing to Ring Out the Year | Cake In 15 - January 2, 2010

    […] The Alarmists: Disclosures For The Hollow Men “They played like they didn’t give a fuck. Like it was alright to get hurt and live to tell about it. ” […]

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