Here's a review of our first record from the distant past by the glorious Tris McCall (he makes us feel good about ourselves):
Thursday, March 04, 2004
The Multi-Purpose Solution
Title: The MPs
From: Essex and Passaic Counties. That's what it says on the
album, anyway -- the address listed in in Clifton. I know the guitar
player was living in Newark at the time of release, but he's not there
Format: Full-length LP.
Fidelity: Jersey indie. Jersey independent studios and engineers
have a tendency to want to isolate instruments when recording even the
most ferocious rock bands, or, when isolation isn't available, to still
chase after the clean sound of isolated instruments. More on this in the
"what's not so good" section, but now let's get to what's good.
Genre: Post-punk/indie-rock. Multi-Purpose Solution
shares many formal features with the turn-of-the-decade New Brunswick
coterie of groups that spent Saturday nights at the Court Tavern and
Melody Bar, and late May at the Wilmington Exchange. Think Aviso'Hara.
Arrangements: Two guitars -- one distorted electric razor of an
instrument playing big chords, and another scrawling single or
double-note lines over the top. Rock and roll bass and drums, some
guitar processing (including a particularly effective phaser on
"Combiner", and a great sci-fi sound effect at the tail end of
"Superman's Flying, The Guns Are Shooting"), and backing vocals on a
song or two.
What's this record about?: Lots. Destructive relationships,
bodily functions, weapons, automobiles, capitalism and culture, the
liminality of the artist. The Multi-Purpose Solution can't decide if
their artistry and passion makes them criminals, or if it's the other
way around. The lyrics spring out of the speakers with the chaotic
urgency of internet rants: words are coined ("insanefulness",
"sansparachuting", "freeopoly"), syntax garbled to liberating effect,
screeds suddenly break into articulate Italian. Singer Jim Teacher
swears, gets sarcastic, intentionally misquotes classic rock songs,
talks about his major and ponders slitting his own throat. If he's
wallowing, he's having a great time doing so: trying to figure out
whether to participate in the modern culture or to tear it down, and
letting us all in on those ruminations. "It would be so much fucking
simpler/just to be criminal", he ponders, before declaring himself and
his peers "jackals or businessmen", anyway. The individual tracks have
the feel of open-ended intervierws with a loose-lipped poet -- clearing
his throat, speaking his piece, enjoying the cadence and feel of his
prose even when he's saying the most desperate things, periodically
pressing "pause". Inspirational verse for all you Jersey cats: "Life's
not like the Hackensack/where all the human shit gets dumped and don't
come back/Life's not the Passaic/just rooting around for its own
sake/there's a little American Revolution in everything we do."
The singer: Aggressive music requires an assaultive tone by the
frontman. Yet I don't think I've ever heard a singer take the path Jim
Teacher does. He attacks, for sure, but not in the time-honored K-ROCK
fashion. Instead, he presents his narratives in a voice somewhere
between a punk-rock Louis Armstrong and Tom Waits committing hari-kari. I
don't know whether or not he gargles with ground glass, but Teacher's
guttural ranting sounds positively painful. Did I imply I didn't like
it? I love it. It makes the listener sit up and pay attention to
the stories; it's ugly, fascinating, and it suits the songs and subject
matter perfectly. Jesse Fuchs used to say that the trick to singing is
to create a vocal sound that matches what you have to say. Jim Teacher
has done that. If his performances make you think the Multi-Purpose
Solution routed an articulate street crazy out of Washington Square
Park, stuck him in front of the microphone, and let him do his thing,
well, they've probably made their point.
The band: The guitars scrawl and stutter while the rhythm section
sticks to the basics. The bass guitar plays eighth notes on the roots,
the drummer keeps four-on-the-floor, and the lead guitar shoots
oscillating sixteenth-note patters through the fog like signal flashes.
Cymbals: big, splashy, and frequent.
The songs: Unusual; songs without a clear center but never without
musical focus. Many of these compositions feint toward verse-chorus
structure, but substitute tag lines for releases. Teacher's narratives
don't move forward in even paces, and the music follows suit: guitarrist
Brother Stephen likes to introduce musical themes and then develop them
and frequently works with reoccurring patterns, but they don't always
develop according to expectation. Multi-Purpose Solution songs build
toward foci rather than resolutions -- toward moments of heightened
intensity. Sometimes these happen at the intersection of a repeated line
and a harmonic resolution, and sometimes they don't. My favorite:
Teacher breaking from a black meditation on a woman's breasts to count,
gruffly, from one to forty-eight.
What distinguishes this record from other records of its genre?: "Phagocyte", "scholastomy", "ontology", "trilobite": The MPs
has got more ten-cent words than the last Decemberists record. The
drunken, shambling intellectual is not an unusual figure in certain
forms -- the blues, for instance, is loaded with them -- but there
aren't many in indie rock. And there are even fewer musicians willing to
follow down the thicket-filled paths Jim Teacher is determined to
What's not so good?: I strenuously doubt that these drums were
close-miked, but they still feel awfully separate from the rest of the
group. They're either too quiet, or they hit with that "ping" so
characteristic of Jersey rock production. The electric rhythm guitar and
bass are often way too sludgy: they don't exactly melt into each other, they're just occasionally diffuse. The MPs
is a long album -- fourteen tracks, many of which break the four-minute
mark -- so a little arrangement variation would also have been useful.
Hey, I'm not asking for calliopes and optigons, guys; a simple acoustic
track would probably have sufficed.
Recommended?: Is there any doubt? Could I hear a stanza like
"last night, everything sixty-nined/last night, all the vegans stepped
in line/and I was not unkind" and not want to share that with the rest of the world?
Where can I get a copy/hear more?: Alas, the Multi-Purpose
Solution no longer exists. The group called it quits in autumn 2003, and
North Jersey lost one of their most interesting and unique projects.
The website is still up, though, and you can download several of these
songs (plus a surprising number of remixes) right here. Drop them a line at your own risk.