It is no secret that I am somewhat old fashioned…I don’t know where my phone is more than half the time, I still read books on paper, I don’t respond to emails and messages promptly, I miss having flyers in my back pocket, I miss albums, and cds, and tapes. But, I must say, that this internet age of connectedness has put me in contact with some amazing people. One of them being Joel Tannenbaum from Plow United, Ex-Friends, and now The Rentiers. Through PR people and this great internet, Joel reached out to me and I have had the opportunity to gain insight into the music in a way that I wouldn’t have a few years ago, and it’s always exciting to get an email with a new link in it.
So, anyone that has read CC2K for a while, knows that I was an Ex-Friends fan, from the music, to the attitude, to design of their packaging. Like when any band you enjoy breaks up, I was bummed that their wouldn’t be a next record, but I also knew that there would be so many interesting projects would come out of that The first post break up project comes from Joel Tannenbaum – The Reinters. The Reinters is a total continuation of Ex-Friends. Here is a List of Things That Exist is rock n’ roll, it is punk, it is alternative, it is polished, it is raw, it is personal. It is smart punk rock veiled in accessibility. It is catchy as hell yet every track is a commentary full of cultural references. I am always a huge fan of music that makes you think, makes you second guess your first impression, make you look something up. When I was a kid, I loved when bands made me look up references or words. It usually lead me down a rabbit hole that I would have never stumbled on on my own.
Here is a List of Things That Exist is a four track EP, that will totally have you tapping your foot, trying to recall your history lessons, singling along, exploring some social issues, and testing your knowledge of film critics. The first song, The Story of Adam, is a haunting track with only an acoustic guitar, tambourine, and precisely constructed lyrics. “All these stories of failure / They keep us warm like old blankets / or sweaters out of a freebox”. These lyrics are pointed, they cut right to the heart yet, the conversational language peppered in makes more poignant and concrete, “Yeah, I kind of call bullshit on that”. This connection between image and common language paired with the sparse music, make it truly resonate.
The Legend of Molly Pitcher has a relentless beat that carries you though the track, just as the mementos carry us through generations. From the title though the first verse, almost every line contains a reference that is dripping with complex meaning. This track touches on strong women, who have been the subject of controversy throughout history. All of these woman, their reference contained in a totem of pop culture (a notebook, a mixtape, a photo) that was forgotten in a garage. This construction ties the broad culture of generations, with the subculture of its day, with the individual who has collected, and the individual who has discovered. Working with these ideas are two lines that deal with an abstraction around objects, an engagement ring with the inscription “’Here is a list of things that exist” and “a soot-stained vest / That belonged to some guy who lived and died like it was no big deal”. These two lines transcend the cultural references and comment on human lives in the broader, finite sense, in such a beautifully simple way. These are the objects and sentiments of the human experience.
Margret Stackhouse is a slower track with almost a whimsical tone that comments on how lives can interconnect and how inspiration and intelligence can come from unlikely sources. Stackhouse is film critic whose commentary on 2001: A Space Odyssey is widely regarded as one of the most intelligent commentaries on the film. In order to really get at the underling notion of the song, you have to know that she wrote her essay when she was 15 years old. Every time I hear it, it can’t help but latch on to the alternative vibe and think about when Soul Asylum was really good, I think that Dave Piriner would dig this one.
Votive Candles is another upbeat track that offers social commentary on the human spirit. The first line introduces the listener to a rundown neighborhood, with old men who hold on to their neighborhoods (and their bodegas) and young people who believe that they can make a difference in these neighborhoods. Tannenbaum completely controls the listener in this track. The first line, “Those jackboots are made for marching and I’m afraid that’s what they’ll do” sets us up for sympathy and the “To a half empty bodega that is staffed by an old man whose most deeply held belief is that / Life never gives you more than you can handle” seals it up. We have taken a side. From then on, the “repainted and refurbished” house and the cops are not the signs of progress that they normally would be. Sound proofing the basement brings the listener into the personal space of the writer and sirens are presented with nostalgia. Each verse is punctuated with the sentiment, “Life never gives you more than you can handle” followed by the question, “where are all the votive candles”. It is a belief searching for validation and strength, yet never wavering. We feel redemption by the last line though, “Look at all the votive candles”. This song, more than the others on this EP, really punctuates what I find so fantastic about Tannenbaum’s song writing – it seems simple, it is pointed, it is accessible, it is deep with nuance and meaning.
I may have drifted a bit into the poetic review of this EP, but the layers subtly unfold with every listen. Sonically this EP, is a damned good time, you will be singing along and humming it as you make dinner. But there is also a depth to each track that was meticulously crafted, that will sneak into your consciousness with every foot tapping note.