A Gesture of KARL HENDRICKS
I think you'll find that a lot of bloggers (at least the music bloggers) out there are what I like to call Attention Whores. They're out there trying to rack up big numbers, attracting readers with the latest big thing or remix of the latest big thing. They're posting Neutral Milk Hotel demos or deep tracks off of Sufjan Stevens' "THE ILLINOIS YELLOW PAGES AS SUNG ALPHABETICALLY BY A LARGE COLLECTION OF TWEE SWEATER WEARING MINIONS." They run the music sites that scoop even Pitchfork before they can run a snide, rarely funny dis review.
And then you have guys like me. Guys who post about albums that are 12 years old, trying to get one last copy sold before the record and its memory fade like a million No Hit Wonders that came before. Guys who are so unhip that when they finally do post a song that winds up being a bandwidth buster, it's not a WOLF PARADE exclusive track. . . it's a dusty old nugget from the Traveling Wilburys (their biggest hit, no less!).
With that in mind, get ready to hop into the Way Back machine for another dusty one. This time I'm taking you back to Pittsburgh, PA in the mid-1990s. Back to a time when the term Alternative Rock was just about to lose all meaning entirely. This is the era of THE KARL HENDRICKS TRIO, 3 skinny post-SUPERCHUNK rockers who made beautiful dischord out of every indie geek's worst nightmare: dealing with women.
While two albums and an EP preceeded it, "A GESTURE OF KINDNESS" is -- in my opinion -- the complete realization of the band's sound (and therefore its masterpiece). The guitars are jangly and explosive, the lyrics full of regret, embarassment, bitterness and quite frankly, a little bit of misogyny. From what I've heard, Karl Hendricks looked a bit like Steve Albini if he'd turned out more like Mark Borchardt and dressed more like Garth from "Wayne's World." I like to think that this album is what Robert Crumb would sound like if he'd made a punk band.
The album opens with the tone-setting "Foolish Words of a Woman in Love," which sounds like an exact combination of the aforementioned Superchunk and the ARCHERS OF LOAF. The band is on a roll that continues through the rest of the album, starting with "The Official Shape of Beauty" (a great DINOSAUR JR song, if J Mascis took out 3 minutes of guitar solos and just made a pop song). Following that is the jazzy "The Scoffer's Reply", where Hendricks takes on his biggest critic, his ex-girlfriend ("The scoffer's reply: 'It's not jazz when you play like that'").
My favorite track on the album comes 7 songs in, "King Beds Morning Coffee." Even if you hate the rest of the record, you've got to love this one. It has a really cool opening bassline that leads into a great descending guitar part, and some great sad lyrics that -- even if they were in some made up language -- sound exactly like what the guy is feeling. If you only spoke Spanish and heard this track, you'd still know it's about a bitter geek and his lost love. (Unrelated trivia: Does anyone know if there was actually a coffee brand called King Beds' Morning Coffee? For some reason, I've always thought there was.)
FOR MORE ON TONIGHT'S POST:
- The Karl Hendricks Trio at Merge Records. Stream a few more recent tracks here.
- "A GESTURE OF KINDNESS" was out of print for years, but was just rereleased on Spirit of Orr Records. If anyone out there has the reissue, I'd love to hear the bonus tracks.