Thursday, March 10, 2011
My Allegiance is to the Ground: Estrogen Highs' Friends and Relatives
Back in mid-December of last year, when the Gramery Records' message came in about the new label's inaugural release, Estrogen High's Friends and Relatives, I was busy self-medicating with heavier music like Nails' Unsilent Death to help drown out the reality of an impending holiday season. It was no time to devote attention to one of my all time favorite bands, the E. Highs. But a line in the Gramery press release had gotten me especially wound up: "Friends and Relatives is chalk full of a wide range of influences; from The Dead C to Guided by Voices, to Kiwi-style pop, to The Wipers, to psychedelic drones and jams..."
I interpreted this as the band taking their Dead Beat LP Tell it to Them and then grinding it up into an all out unclassifiable epic trash rock feast. Even if only The Dead C and The Wipers had been mentioned, I'd still have assumed this.
Instead, Friends and Relatives turned out to be a jangly lo-fi pop album that could easily be what Guided By Voices would have sounded like had they been from Western Mass and fronted by a mid-nineties-era Thurston Moore. I wasn't into it. Maybe had I heard Friends and Relatives before ever hearing Tell it to Them, and also without having read a press release that jacked me up for the next This Heat's Deceit, I would have instantly dug the LP. Or maybe it was the fact of having been beaten down by the three feet of snow that I had to shovel off the fucking roof of my house that made me less receptive to a more mild undistorted Estrogen Highs. I wanted to love it, but couldn't.
Yes, the Kiwi-style pop looms large. Chris March's piece in the Register spelled it out, with Stefan Christensen's list of influences that informed the second full length from Estrogen Highs including The Verlaines, The Clean, Tall Dwarfs, and The Gordons, four New Zealand bands. (By the way, Chris, "New Haven’s finest lo-fi garage rock outfit" doesn't cut it. New England's finest, at the least, man.)
So here's my take after a few fresh listens:
Friends and Relatives starts out with an excellent noisy intro called "Poverty Strike" before simmering down to the slow burning "Kaleidoscope," a song that sorta sends you back to the bar for another beer. "Weed Queen" is a pretty good tune that follows "Kaleidoscope" up with some of the energy that Tell it to Them devotees like me dig, as does the song "The Supposing View." "Common Folk" and "Hand of Hearts" are probably the most contemplative this band has ever been. But they sound more like a fire that's about to go out than a bed of hot coals. The closing of side A, "Wille The Inventor" and "I Am Tradition" are almost Dead Milkmen-like lyric-wise. "I Am Tradition" has a sick choppy breakdown bridge thing that is pretty clever. Always a sucker for that stuff.
Then there is side-B, which begins with what is fast becoming my all time favorite Estrogen Highs song. "Graffiti Pt. 1" is maybe a little like something from Medication's This Town, with a thick thread of feedback howling across what I think is the first acoustic guitar based Estrogen Highs tune. A lovely relatable lyric "I need you every day" digs into your heart like the kind of fishhook needed to reel a mako shark aboard. And after building into a faster and faster frenzy over the course of eight-plus minutes, the mad piping of a flute takes over, driving the song into its death throws. An apologetic track, "Ministers & Rabies," of guitar and vox only, picks us gently back up. Then there's "Re-Commencement Speech," a nice little pop song, almost Bee Thousand material, with delicate la-la's and ooo's atop. After the OK song "Irresponsibility," "Alley Man" clicks in with a false start, then returns with a left end of the dial radio worthy deep cut rocker.
"Silly Marvels" is a my second favorite on this LP. A drumless tune, and yet full of lilting rhythm, it has their most sickest and happy outro ever. Glorious and dingy, like that pair of ill-fitting bowling shoes you bought at the Salvation Army back in high school.
USA with shipping included $14
CANADA/MEXICO with shipping included $16
WORLD with shipping included $19
Add $10 per copy for 2 to 3 copies of LP
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