Saturday, August 21, 2010

Long Whisker - Huge Power

Jim & Reagan continue to truck along. I've seen them transition through three significant lineup changes, and one faux band-breakup. What's changed in the meantime is, well, drums, mostly. Now they have them; they didn't before. When Reagan first sent me some Long Whisker tunes back in 2008, I was totally floored: clearly early-development songs that worked amazingly well as first iterations, don't think too hard about it, just be what you are, sing what you know and that is frill-less 90's balls and poetry.

That sound continues to prevail on Huge Power but with a thicker production, a better executed recording - thanks to Worm Farm Recordings in Ypsilanti. J&R can be found yelping tag team style or in unison on this record and bashing the guitars noticeably harder along to the splishsplash of hence-departed drummer Elliot Daimler. There is a suggestion of bass, presumably overdubbed by Reagan, to fill in the low end now that keys are no longer present.

At first glance, songs must come easy for these guys. I don't know if that's true or not (I will ask). But I assume that it's true 'cause Jim & Reagan have wits that basically dominate whatever room they happen to be in, however large. We shared a show in Jackson at the historic Michigan Theater back in March. Now, the Michigan Theater is a sad and amazing place. It, like so many other early 20th century theaters, is a crumbling symbol of pre-depression Midwest stability. People were in these states and cities making stuff, getting by, living in industry and, naturally, going to movies and talkies on the weekends. Hence the Michigan Theater came into being as well as it's cohort of doomed architectural specimens in other, similar towns. And now it sits in downtown Jackson, Michigan, foreboding. Its restoration is the pet project of a handful of classic theater enthusiasts, nostalgists. And it's been largely restored, it shows some films, live broadcasts of sporting events, Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings for local degenerates that seem to happen every night (seriously, I don't get this, how often can you dress up and mime the same film?). Anyway, the place is also haunted. And here we are, a couple of quasi-local bands in the belly of this theater beast, with a dressing room reserved for us, at once charming and bizarre. Around the corner is a hallway blocked off by a row of chairs. "What's back there?" "Don't go back there, that's where the ghosts are." The ghosts! So I'm hanging around alone by the ghost hallway and I close my eyes. I hear no ghosts but I do hear Reagan & Jim. They're in the dressing room with some other dudes and the bubble of jokes and laughter echoing off the concrete walls is constant, reverberated to sound decades old, and it's easy to imagine the ghosts of grips, projectionists and dancers guffawing in the style of the roaring 20s, enveloped in cigar smoke.

Jim, Reagan, & former drummer Elliot in the Michigan Theater dressing room. -photo by Ed.

Reagan & Jim. So many quips and turns of phrase at their disposal, the huge power of the language centers of their brains are the unifying force of this band, and therefore Huge Power is the name of the new album. Actually, that's not the source of the album name, probably something more tongue-in-cheek socio-political. My two guesses are: 1.) anti-government (naturally, who isn't?) and 2.) anti-fraternal/greek societies. However, I must grant that Long Whisker, if anti-anything, if opposed to anything - if they are any of that, their resistance must be complicated by some kind of ambivalence, because not only do they provoke nostalgia for small, precious, eccentric things, they also write testament to the grit and real-world stench of towns like Ypsilanti, Michigan. They have a love-hate relationship with the post-industrial. They, I think more than any other Ypsi band, totally take ownership of their town. To them, (I project) Ypsi is about nasty, forsaken places inhabited by fantastic people, past and present. Friends of today and the workers of yesterday. In Ypsi and in the rest of the Midwest. Long Whisker shows a sensitivity to the Midwest situation that honestly warms my heart. They're somewhere amidst the various stages of loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. But I think Jim & Reagan are on the verge, in many of their tunes, of taking things a step beyond acceptance. They're finding out what's next, for themselves, for their town and for what it means to be a pair of Midwestern wordsmiths with a band.

Huge Power is available for free download here.