Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Well Every Time I See You, I Wanna Thank You, More and More Each Time -- Reubens Accomplice and Long Waits

About five years ago, I stumbled onto a promotional CD at my former employer, the now defunct Borders. It had a peculiar kind of pastel cover art, with little description. I don't have the disc anymore, having passed it to someone else (with whom I've lost contact), but it was an album called Dog Problems, by a band called The Format. It rapidly disseminated itself with some effort from me, spreading "virally" even to people I don't (or at least didn't) know via those that I do and did. That band no longer exists, having broken up shortly after that very album, and reformed into the solo artist Sam Means and combining with members of Steel Train and Anathallo to form fun., who have achieved a pretty high level of success at this point.

However, I managed to catch The Format before they broke up, when they played a show at the local major independent venue, the Cat's Cradle. It was August 26th, 2007, and it was one of the larger lineups I've seen in my time. The Format was backed with Limbeck, Piebald, Reubens Accomplice and Steel Train. The overall highlight of the night was certainly all of the bands coming together to play Van Morrison's "Caravan" at the very end, but this was definitely a show that helped encourage my policy of checking into opening acts. There's a good chance I'll talk about Piebald another time (a very good one!) and Steel Train as well, but right now, there's a reason I'm talking about the band I'm here to write about.

Yesterday, I made the excited purchase of a number of items, from an album someone almost got me as a present ten years ago (but skipped on as it was apparently nowhere near gift quality in its used state), to two albums I've been searching for intently at every store I enter, to a well-regarded album that influenced a number of bands I like or love, to a difficult-to-find band of less known status--and even a few others. And yet, I came home and found a link in my e-mail, began my download, and those two albums I'd been searching for finished ripping to my computer and have remained untouched since. Indeed, the trays of my optical drives are sitting outside my desktop with the discs still in them.

That download was a link to the new Reubens Accomplice album.

I left that show five years ago with a rather large selection of merchandise:

There are a few Format items, but that's reflective of purchasing gifts for friends. I kept only the blue shirt for myself and the brown Steel Train shirt (which, apparently, no one is able to read). There's a signed copy of Piebald's We Are the Only Friends That We Have, a promo CD from their then-label, and then there's that lone item of relevance here: Reubens Accomplice's then-latest album, The Bull, the Balloon, and the Family (I get a lot of comments on my brief biography's reference to the Oxford comma, oddly enough--and yes, the album includes it, right there on the cover).

The back of the album is actually covered in the signatures of the band as it was touring, minus drums--Jeff Bufano, Chris Corak and Ryan Kennedy. Chris and Jeff are the core members and songwriters of the group, and have been present for all releases. The bands present at the show all covered different territory--the Format were an extremely catchy pop-oriented band, occasionally nudging into full-on power pop, but often just occupying an extremely pleasant area of catchiness. Steel Train were perhaps the most polished as a general "rock band," with frontman Jack Antonoff's enthusiastic gesticulations and heartfelt deliveries, as well as the now-standard (I learned later it came from their first full-length, after two EPs, and two years earlier) group a capella harmonization for "Road Song." Piebald were best encapsulated by their song "Monkeys Vs. Robots," as Travis sang in his fantastically off-key enthusiasm, "This is the best job ever, yeah, we really got lucky!"

Reubens Accomplice seemed like the smallest band of all in the lineup. It wasn't that they seemed out of place, or undeserving, or anything like that: they were clean, they were tight, but they were just that much more intimate than the comfortable bombast of Travis (whose group now had five albums, a hiatus and over a decade of touring under their belt, as well as origins in the far more aggressive origins of hardcore punk) or the more gregarious Jack. There was a certain measure of nervous energy that didn't seem to stem from inexperience or lack of talent, but from being in a bigger crowd than they had necessarily gained.

Of course, this is a key and strange point: when the band played a rubbery groove of a song, it sealed my decision to pay attention to them. There were other songs that were quite good, but to this day I probably couldn't tell you which songs from which album--other than that one--they played that night. This isn't an indication of the quality of the other songs, as I know most of them either by heart or nearly so (the sheer volume of stuff I listen to does make it difficult to be that focused) at this point.

I wandered up to the merch table, and I pre-ordered Steel Train's then-unreleased second album (Trampoline), then I wandered over to the Reubens Accomplice section. I looked at the only CD on their table at the time, and they assured me they had mostly played titles from that one. It was, of course, The Bull, the Balloon, and the Family. I trusted that the song that had so caught my ear would be on this album, and, thankfully, it was. I thought for certain I could use this song to draw in friends much as I had used The Format's "Time Bomb" and its infectiousness to draw people into the Format. To this day, I can often be caught happily blaring "Underneath the Golden Grain" to passersby whilst out driving. You haven't got a heart if that skipped-y beat and that chiming guitar sound and that banjo and that chorus don't get to you.

Unfortunately, I apparently have a lot of heartless friends.

However, for once, I can do something interesting with that song, and link you directly to a free MP3 offered by the band themselves at this link. If you aren't a heavy 'net user, just right click that link and select "Save link as," or whatever menu option you find that resembles that (it varies by browser) and give it a listen. Give it a few listens.

The album covered an awful lot of my emotionally-resonant listening five years ago, and it was already an aging album--it was released in 2004, three years before I had even seen them play. I ordered their first album, 2001's I Blame the Scenery, the next year as I still had ready access to orders of almost any in-print music via my then-employer and found it was a bit more rough than its follow up as craft and production went, but the songs were, if not as strong, certainly close to it.

Soon, news started to build around the release of new material, until a title, a pre-order, an EP and some demos were announced--nearly two years later, after the first proposed title was abandoned. In early 2009, Sons of Men was given a title, and an EP was used to promote pre-order of the album, containing two new songs and interpretations of those songs by four other artists. By this time, the Format was gone, fun. was to release its first album, Steel Train was well on their way to their third album (the one I had pre-ordered at their table was now very familiar to me and had been out for two years), Piebald had permanently called it quits, and here, in Reubens Accomplice, was the only seed left of new music from the show.

I made that pre-order then, and I got my EP, and I got my copy of "Mammal Demos," the five tracks released as a bonus for those of us who pre-ordered. I nearly wore out that EP. My profile makes this pretty clear, as the second most played song since I've used that scrobbling service is the lead track from the EP: "I'm Leaving." The release was set for June, three months later. I described the purchase in my journal at the time in my list of then-recent acquisitions:
Reubens Accomplice's pre-release EP of 2 album songs and 2 covers each by 2 bands to go with them--titled the Sons of Men EP, because the album will be Sons of Men (And I pre-ordered it for its June release)
Soon, the album was delayed. In December, I decided to do myself a favour and ordered I Blame the Scenery on vinyl because it was still available and enjoyed some more of that album as well. Gradually, the band's new material started to fall off the radar. I kept listening to the two released albums off and on, the first ten tracks of the second album in particular often-quoted and listened more than any others. The years went on--2010, there was talk of the album nearing completion, 9/12 tracks were mixed, only a bit more work was to be completed by phone...and then it went silent again. I saw that a person or two had canceled their orders via chargeback with credit card companies and contesting the purchase and similar reactions. I didn't feel that angry or offended, even thought that was sad to lose faith, but I was curious as to what had happened. I'd check in here and there throughout the year, then through 2011, and on into this year as well. Little hints and hopes would appear and then fall away. They continued to play shows, though closer to their home on Phoenix, AZ than anywhere out here.

And then we got cover art. And then an e-mail: the album was coming, for real this time. A download link would be sent by e-mail soon. It just sort of...happened. And that second e-mail was the one I got yesterday. After six years of wearing out the first two albums, listening to "Act On (Feeling Alone)" and "Leave the City" and "This Town" and "We're Waking Up Kings" and "I'm Leaving," the album was...well, okay, it still isn't in my hands, but the album is on my computer, legitimately and directly from the band. They snuck out one song for everyone to hear, which I've been trying to spread around as best I can, and let me just leave it for you here as well:

That's a time-lapse video of a mural for the album going up. And that's the opening track, "Field of Science" behind it, and it's up-to-snuff. By which I mean I paid for this album three and a half years ago, and it's worth it.

I stalled out on listening to stacks of exciting new music, and even some interesting videos, even neglecting to read a new story by my favourite writer of Vertigo's comic Hellblazer (that author is Jamie Delano, for the unfamiliar) to listen to the album repeatedly. And I'm still listening to the band, though I decided to go back to the beginning and work into the new album this time.

What is it about this band? It's crafted, it's catchy, it's clear and bright and shiny, and sincere, so sincere, it's not morose or relentlessly optimistic (despite the typically in(s?)ane review from Pitchfork of their first album, calling them "emo," despite the brighter, happier tunes--though it may just prove the absurdity of that seemingly un-definable term). It's a mix of simply, openly expressed emotions (even "Underneath the Golden Grain" starts "You'll never know, Jeff, how much I'm glad you're here..." and goes on to describe Chris' feelings about being in the band itself). Everything just sounds so right that I'm still befuddled, boggling, even, at how this band has not clicked with more people. Lovely harmonies, emotive voices, enthusiasm, emotional authenticity, not of a certified, stamped kind, but of the kind you can just hear.

I wrote in an intensely amateurish sense about them four years ago when I first made any attempt to write about music, in a blog I'm not going to link here. It's less focused, it's even more poorly written, and it's generally embarrassing. But I wrote of them as capturing one of my favourite approaches to songwriting in a band: there seems to be that tension of "Chris songs" and "Jeff songs." I mentioned XTC, of course, noting that it made me think of the Partridge and Moulding kind of split, even if it may be more about who gets to sing which song than distinctly separate song-writing. I wrote enthusiastically, wanting them to be a band that caught on with other people, one of a small handful of bands I wrote about in all of that time. This is a fantastic band that deserves far more attention than they are likely to get. I haven't got reach, but if I have your ear, please turn it their way.

Intrigued? Well, feel free to visit their web page here for more free downloads from the first two albums. Go here to pre-order the new album, order the other two albums, the EP, or even some t-shirts. Go here on Amazon to buy the first album in MP3, CD or vinyl format, or to order the second album in CD format. Check out their Facebook page.

Oh, I guess I should mention: the new album is available on 180g white vinyl only, though it comes with download codes for a total of 30 new songs. I think I detect the faint scent of perfectionism circling the album's delays, as the previous comment of 9/12 tracks does not apply to this solidly 10-track album, and even the two songs previously released in MP3 form have been tweaked and changed from their original release.

You've got at least four songs for free up there: not much to lose. And you'll earn points with me for trying it--go on, you know you want to.

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