Out Of The Past And Into The Now
Some of the most passionate and memorable music came out of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The list of iconic artists and hit songs are too massive to list here but suffice to say that they will live forever in the minds and hearts of many of us. I was fortunate enough to be part of the original scene through both of those formative decades. I got to witness the magic that was made from musicians that have since faded into whatever obscurities we all eventually face. But often there is a resurrection, a rebirth of musicians and songs that are just too strong to disappear from our conveyor belt music scene.
That thought brings me to this next Shoreworld find called The Thousand Pities. The Thousand Pities are comprised of some of the best players associated with those heady days of “alternative” sound. The band is formed around the songwriting prowess of Matthew Davis, former frontman of the Massachusetts band The Vestrymen. The Vestrymen were on Absolute A Go Go Records and garnered plenty of college airplay and printed press in their time. They toured or shared the stage with Aimee Mann’s Til Tuesday, Robyn Hitchcock, Green Day as well as Belly. Davis packed it in around 1994 to pursue what we musicians call “normal” stuff.
However, as all musicians know, you can’t keep a good song down, and in 2006 Davis tore off the cover and started up the machine again, recruiting a mix of old and new band mates here in New Jersey for what would become The Thousand Pities. The culmination of that gathering is their latest release titled Believe In Sound, an eclectic mix of songs that grapple with grown up subject matter and do so with a beautiful spread of exuberant and youthful sounds that bring you back to a time when rock and roll was turning a brand new corner.
Believe In Sound is full of analog goodness. Jangly guitars chime in unison with deep-toned pianos and organs while drums and bass crack, simplistic and metered. While organic in nature, the overall sound is still edgy and rebellious, bringing me back to those great live show times at Patrick’s in New Brunswick, CBGB’S in New York and the scary darkness of The Dover Showplace in good ole’ Dover, NJ. Produced by Davis, the disc also gets a boost from none other than Mark Alan Miller (The Pernice Brothers, Lloyd Cole, Dinosaur Jr, J. Mascis, Thurston Moore.)
Some of the more interesting cuts on the disc are “What If Everyone Is Wrong,” an ode to self-discovery, love and life’s continuing quandaries. Layered in the colorful and fuzzy coats of guitarist Michael Carlucci, the melodic chores are thematic carried out under reverbed-toned slide lines and steady bass and beats. Davis’s vocal is even and clean. I can actually hear the lyrics without my deaf ass going back and rewinding 20 times.
“Last Glittering Thrill” is a Social D meets The Beatles rocker that locks into a cool four on the floor groove right away. This is rock and roll ‘80s style. A rollicking, power-pop call to arms that extols the feelings of playing in a band. The gritty guitars of Michael Carlucci (Winter Hours) and Matt Frielander (Miscreants) grind against thick bass and laid-back drumming. Psychedelic and groovy, I see this song raising its college-oriented head on radio very soon.
The standout on the disc is “Point Pleasant.” This duet features the amazing vocal talents of Deena Shoshkes, lead singer of The Cucumbers. I can always tell when Deena is on board because she sounds like no other singer out there. Likeable, resonant and smooth, she is a perfect match for Davis’s warm and steady voice. Laid back and steady, “Point Pleasant” moves along like a lazy summer day. Additional instrumentation and backing vocals on the track are smart and economic. Nothing gets trampled on this sunny afternoon ramble.
“Warm” is a trance-induced arabesque number that winds its way out slowly. Acoustic guitars, pianos and synths spill constant and somber melody over the vocal top of Davis’s plaintive and passionate storylines. This slides directly into the spaced-out “From The Air,” which features intricate percussion work from Feelies drummer Stan Demeski and paves the way for the next selection quite well. “Dream About It” is that selection and taps into its ‘late ‘80s meets early ‘90s rock’ sound with gusto and lots of guitars. Think Bush meets the Cars and you would be in the right ballpark. Synthesizers and organs whirl a plenty, orbiting the bass and drum double snap as Davis wails down the middle of the entire track. Controlled chaos reigns here and I like it.
“Fourth Of July” is another song that spoke to me immediately. Interesting chord choices fit the melody like a glove. The band comes in dynamic and restrained until the verse bridge where they pound home the melodic framework that catches your attention fast. The violin and viola interludes of Sara Bonesteel and Rebecca Harris-Lee are picture perfect and scattered modestly throughout this disc. Another song I felt strongly about was the stark and desolate sounds of “Super-High Moon.” Once again, the heart melting strings of Sara Bonesteel and Rebecca Harris-Lee help set the mood as electric guitar slide sweeps you into the next easy verse. Melancholy and introspective, this is one of my favorites on the disc. It is classy, with a vintage feel that meets the smoky mountain vibe of Wilco or Red Wanting Blue.
When I look at the song times, they aren’t three-minute pop ditties, but these tunes wrap you up so thoroughly that it feels like they are done faster than they actually are. The Thousand Pities are yet another one of those groups like the Cucumbers and Winter Hours that are made up of passionate musicians that have something to say no matter what the decade or age of the writer. Real music doesn’t rely on baggy jeans and Timberlands. Real music isn’t some stupid ringtone in the flavor of the week section of your iPhone. Real music is art that withstands the test of time and continuously provides audio aficionados with the experience and passion from the writer’s mind, providing a genuine sense of feeling something deeper than the superficial garbage spoon fed by the entertainment industry today.
Listening to Believe In Sound may just convert you to the “no label” society. In a world full of auto-tune clones and producer visions I feel it just might be the pathway you need to get back to a clear-headed musical reality.
The Thousand Pities will be appearing Friday, May 13 at The Rent Party, a benefit for the Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Joseph's food pantries. The Rent Party is an independent series and will be appearing at South Orange Elk's Lodge at 220 Prospect Street in South Orange, NJ. For more information on the band and the new CD, Believe In Sound, check out thethousandpities.com.