Love & Desperation
As a long-time fan of Dinosaur Jr., I’ve come to expect a certain fuzz-drenched sound, crunchy minor key riffs, and longwinding solos matched by the keening whine of J. Mascis singing like Neil Young’s forgotten brother with an overlay of reverb.
So, I was knocked out of my seat when I played “Do You Remember,” the opening track off of Love & Desperation, the debut album by Sweet Apple — the latest side project of Mascis and friends from two other bands he’s been in: bass player Dave Sweetapple from Witch, and frontman John Petkovic and guitarist Tim Parnin of Cobra Verde.
If you go to their Myspace website, you’ll find the following explanation for the band’s existence: “Sweet Apple formed after tragedy, out of friendship, on a miserable day in Vermont.” Petkovic’s mother had died, and he was driving aimlessly, eastward from Ohio, the story goes. Four hundred miles later, he gets a call from Sweetapple, who tells him he might as well come to Vermont. Sweetapple invited Mascis over, who told Petkovic to start writing some songs. He went home and did just that, and next thing they were starting a band, albeit a band that embraces the spirit of the best glam, power pop, hard rock, and heavy metal of the 1970s, full of degenerate teenagers and dangerous vampires.
The opening song hits you like a sonic blast from the hard rock guitar slide to the crunchy chords and heavy drumming right on through. And the album unrelentingly keeps that breakneck pace for 12 whole songs, only one of them over four minutes long. Petkovic handles most of the singing, and Mascis plays drums like John Bonham on fire.
Track two, “I’ve Got a Feeling,” has a vintage Dino sound and feel, then it kicks back into high gear with a hard-stomping “Flying up a Mountain.” With its opening line, “I wasn’t born/ I was detached/ It made my mother cry,” “Mountain” starts off rough and escalates into a raunchy résumé of youth gone bad.
“It’s Over Now” is a poignant, vintage ’70s blues rock number with the great line: “That glass we drank out of is smashed across the floor.”
Another standout, “Hold Me, I’m Dying,” starts off with a “Jean Genie” riff and evolves into a T. Rex boogie, with the great toss-off line, “Teeth marks never heal.”
“Someone Else’s Problem” borrows heavily from Skynyrd’s “What’s Your Name?” It’s a fun little story about a saucy bit of jailbait with the Devil’s lips, who’s “Daddy’s little girl without her Dad.” The narrator is a vampire without fangs.
By now you’re exhausted, and that’s when the band drops this quiet little jewel of a song into the mix, “Dead Moon,” with what sounds like programmed drums and harmonium, synthesizers, acoustic guitars, and floating harmonies. “Come on, fall to me, Dead Moon.”
Next song “Crawling Over Bodies” (also the longest) brings back the energy and the blood-sucker imagery from earlier songs: “I ride with a vampire in a Cadillac,” Petkovic screams.
The last two tracks are driving rockers. “Never Came” has a guitar riff lifted out of “Two Tickets to Paradise” soaring over a thumping bass line. “Down in the basement/ I had to leave/ You never came.”
The album ends propulsively with the appropriately named, “Good Night.”
All the songs on this album carry with them the weight of loss, but with a fighting sense of humor and a defiant attitude. A great big middle finger to the cosmos, perfect accompaniment for a broken heart.
But before listening, crank up the volume and get a good buzz on.