Monday, April 2, 2012

Oh, Ranger! for America

Music should move you to dance, or to hang yourself off a rafter in the garage, it should elicit some kind of emotion or reaction.  What we have now is a failure of communication, the musicians want to be artistic, but the common man wants beats. While the idea of creating music that will sell seems repulsive, that is what drives the music industry.

The days of bands made up of chums (The Beatles being the model) striving to get along and overcome long odds, are numbered.  Seeing how bands are at the heart of rock music, one has to surmise that rock music is fucked. What was once a vibrant and somewhat cohesive local scene has now been compressed into a coterie of noise aficionados.

'Burque is not Cambridge on the Rio Grande. Let's drop the cliquish infatuation with noise and learn to play guitar. Real music with real instruments, what a novel concept!  Music by its very design is driven by purpose, a man feels sad, he sings the blues. Somehow, when a man (or woman) feels sad and starts manipulating knobs and switches, it just doesn't have the same feel.

Gone is the golden age of shoegaze splendor, gone is the studious bearing of garage dwelling geeks. Till with warbling voices-- far, far off the guitar's call, how loud and clear I hear them, the fuzztones come-a-charging. I mourn and yet exult, swift to the snares, swift to the toms ~sigh~   Oh, Ranger! where art thou?

The Indian School ditch, bears the high water mark of our expectations. The big ditch skater cults gave us one of the best bands that Albuquerque will ever see (even if they didn't, it's still a good lead-in) "Oh, Ranger!" you say? Naw! it was The Skunks. (Lead vocalist & guitarist- Boyd Reno,  bassist- Gil Sanchez, keyboardist-Lucas Spider and drummer- Noelan Ramirez)

The Skunks, traced their roots to a teen worship band that Boyd & Noelan played in. The addition of Lucas Spider and Gil Sanchez in 1998, put the final pieces in place. Tentatively they set out to test the rock & roll waters of their hometown. The Skunks were no stinkaroos and almost from the get-go their infectious music drew a devoted fan base.   

In the time span of one year, The Skunks were regulars at various Albuquerque venues (their very first gig was at Sprockets Pub) This run of success was topped off by the inclusion of their song "Skate Ramp" on Socyermom's iconic two disc compilation "Ouch"  Which as everyone knows includes every Albuquerque band ever mentioned by Capt. America in Wig Wam Bam.

The Skunks roared over the din of indifference and the drone of mundane thought. They were the darlings of downtown pub crawlers, but the under assistant middle rio grande promotion hombres deemed the band's moniker, a determent to its impending success. The name had to go, Boyd & Lucas scratched their heads... what to do?

"People go around treating music like it's just some kind of race"

After considering Luke is Spider and The Black Cathy's, they settled on Oh, Ranger!  On the surface it would appear to be a tribute to Chuck Norris (Walker, Texas Ranger) Legend also has it, that those were the words that Tonto would silently utter every night as he and Kimo Sabe drifted off to sleep under a blanket of stars. 

Seriously! am I the only one that thinks "Brokeback Mountain" is really just a goof on The Lone Ranger & Tonto.. seriously? I would have gone with Oh, Rancher! (given New Mexico's agricultural heritage and all) but, Oh, Ranger! is a fucking epic name for a rock band. The name change also brought about a change in musical direction.

The skater friendly poppy punk of old was out, replaced by darker, introspective shoegazer tendencies. Over the course of three albums, Oh, Ranger! gave us a running commentary based on their state of mind. At times it was brooding and angry, or laced with acerbic humor and held together by a perfect sense of smart ass timing.

In 1999 it was even money as to who sounded more like Weezer: Oh, Ranger! or Starsky. Rivers Cuomo and Weezer were the force that launched a thousand imitators.  I would dare to say that Oh, Ranger! ranks with the very best of them. (though certainly not by design)  A poor man's Weezer? Fuck Yeah! I would take that any day.

"When you gonna make it and sell a million copies of your records?"

Their debut album "bitter yearnings on a lonely farm" came out in 2000, CD Baby wrote that  "Oh, Ranger! drags us through love inspired mud puddles where infatuation is the cliff from which we all jump into shaky relationships with questionable people." If that writer didn't have tongue firmly planted in cheek, then he (or she) had tongue firmly planted in a rather disagreeable orifice.

Half of the tracks on "bitter yearnings on a lonely farm" would be shoe-ins to make any list of "Best songs ever, by Albuquerque bands" The rest while flawed are still fun, the band's wry sense of humor comes through loud and clear. It's an album that could pass as a collection of Weezer demos. Therein is the rub, Weezer lite?... maybe, but in 2000 that wasn't such a bad thing. 

Over the proceeding two years, the legend of Oh, Ranger! continued to grow. In 2002 the band dropped their second album "Polyester Blues"  The maturity and growth was apparent from the opening salvo of the raucous "Take me Home", "She don't want to save me, she just wants the trophy" While the Cuomo doppelgänger still hovers about, this is pure Oh, Ranger! rage music.

"Polyester Blues" finds Boyd Reno growing weary, on "Numbers" he confesses "And I want it so bad I can taste it" the process is taking too long "I've wasted so long on this rock & roll dream" Making music was becoming tedious, a subject addressed on "Let's Start Over" "Pulling bullshit out of my head, I can't rhyme, I just try and then I cry because you never liked my style at all"  

"The party's over and I'm down, down and I'm tired.... hey hey hey"

Some more chicken nuggets of wisdom from CD Baby describing "Matching Up" (2003) the third album by Oh, Ranger!, "The metaphors and social overtones stir up the most wild of emotions and create music with purpose and direction without letting go of aspects of eccentricity and light-heartedness" that's the written equivalent of talking with your mouth full of shit.

I could take that quote and insert it into a review of 99% of all albums ever recorded. Oh, Ranger! was always a heady and intelligent band, but metaphors and social overtones, what the fuck does that even mean? Let's not get all academic, at best Oh, Ranger! was a damn good rock band determined to give us our money's worth.

Oh, Ranger! was feeling the cumulative effects of the rock & roll lifestyle. "Fregas" paints a bleak scenario "On the road we've been drinking, still reeling from the use of cocaine, feel my hands they're still shaking" songs that remind us of the good times "stealing now we ran out of money, it's just food and we're hungry"

"Matching Up" was a document from a band that was jaded and tired of the grind. The road and the drugs were wearing on them, they felt the need to get this across. In retrospect, it looks like they went into the studio knowing that this would be the end. "you're beginning to think about the future, yeah, you want money and cars" Being a starving artist is so fucking overrated. 

"I'm sick, you're dead, I'm bored, you're tired"

Oh, Ranger! called it quits in 2003 with Boyd Reno relocating to Seattle. Lucas Spider turned up with Your Name in Lights, an emocore band that had a good run in Albuquerque. Lucas would eventually rejoin Boyd in Seattle, leading to the resurrection of Boyd Reno is John Center, a project started by Boyd during 2002 in Albuquerque.

Whether Boyd Reno is John Center was meant to be Boyd's alter ego or not, is up for debate.  It seemed more like an attempt to break from the Oh, Ranger! mold, although there is no radical difference between the music of either one. Unlike Garth Brooks and his ill fated Chris Gaines persona. Boyd Reno is John Center works because John Center is actually Boyd Reno.

In New Mexico, Boyd was joined by his Red Door Studio mates ("drinking at the red door, sleeping on the floor") a collaboration that resulted in the album "Heart Positions" Reunited in Seattle, Reno & Lucas Spider were joined by Westin Glass (Mistletoe, Model Photographer,The Reformation) and a bevy of Seattle musicians resulting in a second album "Soul Explosions" (2006) 

The last we heard from Boyd Reno is John Center were some demos posted by Boyd on his MySpace music page. Here's part of his introduction, "After taking a break from music for a while, I broke up with a girl, like I always do. I wrote a few songs. Some were about the girl, and another was about the best dogs I ever knew." smart move mentioning the girl before the dogs.

"Played in some bands over the years, blah, blah, blah, etc."

The latest John Center demos (posted in 2009) were produced by Westin Glass. The tracks feature Boyd unplugged, there's no mistaking that voice, he still has it and it's still so fucking cool. He closes by stating: "I might try to get together a new John Center band, not sure. But, for now, here are some demo songs I recently recorded. Thanks for listening."

After "Soul Explosion" Boyd and Lucas transtioned into Gray Beast, a minimalist electronica project. "The Album That Killed Its Parents" was the end result and it was a veritable feast of muted whispery vocals,  lo-fi electronica and spacey effects. It's an exploration of digital sounds, that allows Lucas Spider to showcase his expertise.

True to its title, the album almost killed off its progenitors. Boyd Reno dropped out of music in the pursuit of academic achievement. Lucas in the meantime, started working with Brooklyn exiles, Say Hi to Your Mom (now know simply as Say Hi)  a band that moved to Seattle because according to Lucas Spider "they heard about some serious decoder shit going down"

Oh, Ranger! was yet another great local band that never got their just rewards. (how many does that make now?) If you have any doubts just give their catalog a listen,  make sure to start with "Skate Ramp" and then continue on in chronilogical order. All of their albums are available at CD Baby (I bagged on them enough, now I'll pitch them) The first two can be had for $5 each, Matching Up is only available as a digital download.

"Minstrels latent on the prairies!, you may sleep--- you have done your work"