Thursday, January 26, 2012

What Makes a Baby Wolf Sad?

The death of rock music has been rumored since it's infancy. Although if we assume rock & roll to be a breathing, living entity... then like all living things it was destined to die eventually. Are we at the end days of rock music, is Stevie Nicks' claim that "the internet has destroyed rock" valid? If so, there's enough blame to go around, and yes the internet has played a part. If not in its demise, then at least for the current moribund state that's it's in. 

Many would argue that up and coming musicians now have more outlets to get their music out there, thanks to the internet. That is true, but it's a double edged sword. The "star making system" in music is gone and just like Hollywood when the studios scrapped the system of contract actors, it's dog eat dog. The system worked to certain degree, whenever a music scene got hot, you could count on the major labels sweeping down to sign everyone in sight (London, San Francisco, Los Angeles, NYC, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle) 

The crux of the problem is that rock music has gone from being a dominant force, to simply filling a niche in the market. The ascendancy of rap and hip hop music was a key factor,  but rock musicians played their part.  We can definitely blame Kurt Cobain, for pissing it all away, while making it seem that doing so was a point of pride. (Better to blow your fucking head off, then to burn out or fade away... my ass!)  Let's not leave out Trent Reznor, a mediocre, miserable and self indulgent motherfucker, who cheated us by not killing himself. But, most of all I blame Pearl Jam and in turn Eddie Vedder for lowering the bar and thus opening the door for Nickelback, Chris Daughtry and a host of guttural imitators. 

Jon Landau is best known as a onetime music writer and critic at Rolling Stone magazine, but the article he's most famous for was published by The Real Paper, a Boston alternative weekly newspaper. In 1974 Landau went to see a New Jersey favorite son perform. He came away from that concert a changed man. He was so touched by the performance that he wrote these now familiar lines, "I saw my rock and roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen." I guess you had to be there. 

Landau immediately quit his writing job and went to work for Bruce Springsteen, a smart move on his part.  Strangely enough he was right, "The Boss" was the future of rock & roll, but for all the wrong reasons. Springsteen, the greaser with the soul of a poet, is responsible for a sickening trend in rock music, the blurring of lines. Bruce took the essence of rock & roll and added horns, corndog macho posturing and showboating, to essentially neuter the music. He put on a great show, but he was safe as mother's milk, and what he played wasn't rock & roll. 

Springsteen also kicked started the lo-fi music movement with "Nebraska", a stark, manic depressive album that set the tone for a generation of singer-songwriters. These mopers tend to give themselves "band" names and bring everyone down with a shit storm of introspective self pity. For the most part, they are self loathing, awkward motherfuckers uncomfortable in their own skin. Lo-fi lonely boys who just can't shake those dark clouds hovering over their heads. The list of artists reads like a  witness protection roll call for shoegazers and sulkers. (Sparklehorse, Bright Eyes, Badly Drawn Boy, Owl City) ....  omnes mihi taedium.

"The impending demise of rock music has not been exaggerated, but there is still hope"

I too have seen the future of rock & roll and it is Sad Baby Wolf. I know what you're thinking, "WTF! did Bachman Turner Overdrive get back together?" Hey don't knock BTO, those big boys were near genius rock/pop superstars. Sad Baby Wolf, just like BTO revolves around siblings, Marty Crandall (late of The Shins) and Maury Crandall (Giranimals)  Jason Ward, Neal Langford (The Shins, Flake Music) and Sean McCullough round out the band.   

This dream team of Duke City rock musicians is proof positive that the band concept still works. They hold to the ideal, that a group of musicians can come together, like a band of brothers and produce real music. It ain't rock & roll if you're not sweating it out in a studio, a club or in a van that's running on seven of its eight cylinders. Is my claim preposterous? you may think so, but I'm no more wrong about Sad Baby Wolf than Jon Landau was about Bruce Springsteen.

Sad Baby Wolf rose from the ashes of  several local bands, including the original Shins. Marty Crandall, Dave Hernandez & Jesse Sandoval were an integral part of  The Shins' music and image (Damn! I miss that sloppy drunk, happy vibe) Marty's keyboards were as much a trademark of The Shins' sound as James Mercer's vocals. Neal Langford also played an important part in the band. He came on board when they were still recording seven inch splits with Henry's Dress. Then, with success just around the corner, he was given the boot by Mercer (over the phone no less) 

Taking a blowtorch to The Shins when they were primed for bigger and better things still doesn't make much sense. That however is all water under the Montano bridge, we are free to move on.  Sad Baby Wolf first came together when they made an appearance on the bill of a benefit show for Gary Wayne Nelson in 2010. What was supposed to be a "one and done" gig (alongside reunited bands like Elephant & Cracks in the Sidewalk) suddenly became a long term project. It didn't take long for everyone involved to realize that they had stumbled on a good thing.

Sad Baby Wolf recently released two original songs, if  you haven't heard them, shame on ya' they're all over the interwebs. "Survival Guide" uses low key brooding vocals, over a bed of dissonant instrumentation to good effect. This track gives a nod to the sound that is so uniquely 'Burque (best exemplified by The Mindy Set, The Giranimals, The Oktober People, Of God & Science, The Breaktones, A Man About a Horse and Soular) 

"8th. Level" sounds like Flake Music (more so than The Shins) Marty sings with an every man's voice that is strangely effective despite its limited range.  The indie vibe of the music doesn't mask the band's experimental tendencies. It's more than obvious that James Mercer wasn't the only one listening to the Elephant 6 collective. "8th Level" skirts the boundaries of noise-oriented pop with a healthy dose of feedback samples, the good chemistry in Sad Baby Wolf is evident and it looks good on them.

Albuquerque's best bands are those that persevere against the mitigating circumstances that come from living in a city with limited venues. The Duke City is a great place to live, but it's not a good place to nurture a musical career, solo or otherwise (unless you're Chris Dracup and you've got that steakhouse gig locked up tight)  What does the future hold for the band that holds the key to el porvenir de rock & roll?  

Hmm!... probably lunch followed by a nap. And... there's also a full length release due out this spring, which I eagerly await. Sad Baby Wolf was conceived to help sustain and guide rock and roll's destiny out of the doldrums brought on by the ill conceived notion that depression sells. There is joy in music, it is after all "a joyful noise" (fuck you! Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah) and Sad Baby Wolf brings the joy.... yes they do!