LOST SYSTEM • Let Behind LP

LOST SYSTEM • Let Behind LP

Neck Chop Records

Lost System

Lost System was born from a band called Black Monuments (3 tapes and a 7″). When their bozo bass player decided to hitchhike to Portland, OR, they picked up with a new bassist and moved forward with a different name and sound. After that I’d thought that dark synth wave died for a while. I think it got too far away from its truer roots and became some junk that, like most things I enjoy, was eventually coopted by fashion and art school students. To be honest, I could be making all of this up. I really don’t know a lot about Dark Wave at all. It’s not disjointed like post-punk, and it doesn’t talk extensively about Dracula and spirits therefore avoids the “Goth” moniker.  

A year ago, No Bails (the band I’m in) played with Lost System and Trampoline Team in a Grand Rapids, MI basement. Having 3 different sounding bands on the same show made for a terrific night. I remember standing next to my pal Justin Farrar and us both entranced by Lost System. I got a bad feeling from their synth guy. He played terrifically and his dark wave keyboard playing was on point dark wavy keyboard playing, but something about him seemed unctuous and made me feel uneasy and annoyed. Maybe he had a mustache and was looking for people to look at his mustache. Also, I could be remembering a totally different person. I could have also just been hoping to see Matt Maier (Black Monuments, Legendary Wings) as the keyboard operator and not ready for a new face. Nevertheless, this new guy brought the glum aural ambience needed to make this a memorable night. 

But it’s not just the keyboards that make this LP work. I’ve always been a fan or Lost System’s drummer, Michael Housman, because of his simple, concussive, driving style. Housman knows how to hold back and precisely when to change into a dynamic that makes me sit a little straighter, and focus a bit. I’ve skipped back through parts of these songs because I had thought I heard the drums do something, but I had to make sure. Guess what. They do something. It’s almost like he’s playing for a single person in the room that’s in on a personal joke. Jesus, it sounds like I have a crush on the guy and I don’t at all. I just like his drumming. While all of this is going on the bass rumbles just beneath the surface almost like watching a storm front slowly move in across Lake Michigan. Adam’s bass playing is instinctively and lead with his heat as the metronome and I don’t mean that in an artistic way. I mean that his steady, pensive, rhythmic addition might be what holds this entire thing together. Oh yeah, this LP might have changed my mind on my third most hated thing behind jazz and modern country, and that would be saxophone. I pretty much hated the saxophone, but it’s used in such a sincere and stylistic way that it complements the songs. When I read that saxophone was on this LP I pictured it ruining things the same way that it’s done for the Cure and countless other good bands songs. Not in this case though. The saxophone added a coat to make this LP more complex and layered. Though, for me, the glue that binds this together is Michael McFarlane’s lyrics and delivery. The lyrics characteristically mirror life in the Middle West in a way that can only compare to the way Joy Division mirrored their working class, cloud covered factory town. To be clear, I’m not comparing them to Joy Division in sound but moreover in authenticity. McFarlane’s lyrics hit to the center of the Rust Belt wherein they pull together a longing, aggravation, concession, despair, hope, introspection, biting humor, and a look at tomorrow. 

In the end, I’m almost never surprised by music but this did make me take notice and really listen to all of the musicians separately and then again altogether. But where most of these bands fall short for me in the way that most LPs have 3 good songs and the rest could have been split up or dumped altogether this holds interest throughout and any one of these songs could have been a single.  My hope is that anyone reading this is in a personal financial place and willing to take a chance on this LP. 

I’ve known Michael for a chunk of years.  We are the kind of friends that always say we should hang out more, but we never do. My good pal Curtis and me went over to Michael’s apartment a couple times and spent the evenings popping jokes and drinking Four Roses booze. I hope that that will happen again sometime but until then I have this record and the text exchange of me asking if the Lost System synthesizer person ever had a mustache. (JD)

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Justin Dratson: JD   Nate Wilson: NW   Matt Average: MA

THE FIGGS • Ginger LP

THE FIGGS • Ginger LP

Two interviews and one LP review! It’s a fan pack of Figg-ary-ness!

I need to let you in on a couple things before we get into the meat of this review:

1. I grab all of what The Figgs release on vinyl, all of it and without question or listening to any tracks first.

2. The interviews are from memory and are more like me saying stuff to members of the band and their reaction.

3. I’m pretty certain that every encounter I’ve had with this band I’ve embarrassed myself.

Interview 1:

In 2012, a pal and I traveled from Michigan to Albany, NY to see the first of two shows that commemorate the The Figgs’ 25 years of being a band, I think. The show at Valentines is over, has been for over an hour. My pal and I are tipsy. Pete Hayes was the last man out and had a car the size of a potato and fully loaded with all of his drums, including the passenger seat.

Me: Pete that was great, really, really great. We came all the way from Michigan for it.

Hayes: Oh, cool. Thanks for making the trip.

Me: No prob. Can you give us a ride to our hotel? It’s a two-mile walk.

Hayes: I would but I truly have no room.

Me: I bet I could squeeze inside your bass drum

(Silent stares)

Hayes: I’mmm gonna to get going.

Me: Cool cool cool cool. See you guys tomorrow. 

The Review:

The Ginger LP is the Figgs first long player. This was originally a cassette only release from 1992. However, thanks to Matto and Peterwalkee Records, it is finally seeing vinyl. I think it is a bold move to start off any LP with an instrumental, especially from a band that, at the time, no one had really heard of. But dang duder, in 1992 these The Figgs guys were onto something. When track 2 kicks in, “Kristy’s Boots” I’m transported back to how I felt the first time I heard The Jam. I have to wonder though, is Kristy a real person and was she really that hard to get along with? And the lyric “and you blow your mind” repeated several times, I wonder if it’s a drug reference or about a woman who’s had too much of the everyday and junk and opted out.  The following “Sleaze” is another nonstop sing along banger. The 4th, “Floored” is where it goes from great Power pop- rock record to “Jesus, what the fuck! I didn’t see that coming.” They toss in an (mostly) acoustic number that is packed full of sorrow and sweetness. And to kill side A ,“Milk Dud” comes in swinging. And it’s just shy of a hardcore tune with a mosh-break-down and everything.

Side B punches in with “Happy” (also released as a 7″ single in ‘92) followed by “Wasted Pretty”, which later appeared on the 1994 LP Low-Fi at Society High. Songs 4 and 5 on this are terrific but, for me, it is the third song on Side B, “Can’t be Cloned” that grabs me and throws me around the room. “Can’t Be Cloned” has all the right rock tricks: lyrical self-pity,  a back up vocal in the verse sang in a different melody, a little choppy break between verses, a self-aware and self loathing/retired to fate memorable sing along chorus,  and a bridge that doesn’t go too far off the pace or feeling of the song. To me, this entire pile is worth it for this song.

In the end, these are great songs with the right amount of imperfection to make this perfect. It’s ambitious and humble. The songs still resonate with early 20s angst and confusions while having a tone of wisdom, sarcasm, and tunefulness that still captivates me. To take a quote out of context form my pal Charles (Gern Blandsten Records, Follow Jean Through the Sea), “There is no bad Figgs record. They range from “That’s the best thing I ever heard” to “Jesus Christ, that’s good.”  This record is solidly in between those statements.”

Interview 2:

November 1997, I only have $20. Paul Bearer from Sheer Terror is working the door at Brownies, NYC.

Me: Hey man, I have a question for you.

Paul Bearer from Sheer Terror: Yeah?

Me: All I have is this $20 for tonight and I wanted to get a couple beers but beers are too expensive for me here. Do you have any ideas on where I could go around here before the Figgs start?

Paul Bearer from Sheer Terror: (hands me back my change, now down to $15) Ya see that yuppie bar with all the lawyers across the street?

Me: (I look and know exactly where he’s talking about) Yes. Can I afford drinks there?

Paul Bearer from Sheer Terror: Ha. No. But if you tell the bartender I sent you and give him some cash, you’ll be ok.

Me: Cool. Thanks.

Paul Bearer from Sheer Terror: (as I’m walking back out the door) I hope you don’t have any allergies.

I walk into the bar and it is totally young NYC beautiful business types in suits and skirts. I clearly don’t fit in. I sit in a dark corner of the bar.

The bartender: Paul Bearer (from Sheer Terror) send you over?

Me: Yes. Here’s all the money that I have.

Bartender: Cool. Sit tight. Do you have any allergies?

Me: No. Well, pollen.

The Bartender begins to grab half drunk drinks and nearly full drunk drinks and pours them into a glass. He walks over to a freshly made martini, pulls it off the bar and asks the young buck in the suit if he’d like another one. The young buck ordered another one. My drinks were the leftover waste of a room full of fancy NYC up-and-comers. Some of the drinks had rosemary sprigs, or orange twists, or muddled mint. One had a couple of those things and an olive with a bite out of it. To me it was like a magical fish bowl, both the drinks and the room of people. It was frigid outside but I was warming up nicely. And just as the thought of how beautiful and wonderful New York is, I remembered The Figgs were about to start.

Paul Bearer from Sheer Terror: There he is. I was about to send someone to go look for ya. They’re about ta start.

The Figgs played super long that night, just killed it with all the hits. After everything was over I was compelled to go talk to them.  Mike and Pete D were the closest to me.

Me: You guys are really great.

Pete D, Mike: Thanks.

Me: Ever thought about covering “In the City” by The Jam front to back?

Pete D: Ummm, no.

Mike: Ahhh yeah, no.

And then I think I went to Burritoville and got a Fogged Out in Oregon to chomp on the L back to Brooklyn.

I belong to top-secret-cyber-basement-room on a popular media platform for the The Figgs fans. Several years ago I found an old tape someone gave me of old the The Figgs songs and I posed the question to the group – (do you think) If I pitched in for them to do a 7″ of  four short fast-ish power pop songs that they would do it? … I was hit back with talk of it being unfair to ask a band to compromise their art and that I should stop living in the past. I get it, however they did write the lyric “an antisocial lesbian said you were dumb.”  Listening to Ginger and reliving these interviews, I can’t imagine that me asking them could turn out any worse than my previous encounters and could either be a redemption or follow my pattern, win-win.  (JD)

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Justin Dratson: JD   Nate Wilson: NW   Matt Average: MA