The Death Of Song
The follow up to the brilliant Life Is Still Sweet EP, The Death Of Song comes after nearly four years of anticipation. This review is also a bit late; the album was originally released in Spring of 2004, but what’s another nine months?
White Hassle’s sound is rough and genuine, the core of guitarist/vocalist/cartoonist Marcellus Hall and drummer/harmonist Dave Varenka (both alumni of NYC’s Railroad Jerk) writing simple songs that are often accentuated by guest musicians like Chris Maxwell (guitars, The Gleaners, Skeleton Key), Atsushi Numata (turntables) and Meredith Yayanos (violin). While the song structures and the approach may be casual, the results are anything but sloppy. Hall’s penchant for self-deprecating introspection is well-matched to his languid delivery, and Varenka’s adoration of trashy percussion really perks things up.
Take for example “Health Food Store,” where the first two verses deal with having a cold, looking for some relief, and being devastated by the girl at the register. The third verse marvels at how “some stranger will break your heart, inspiring a work of art.” A few tracks later, “Sandlot Shuffle” showcases another White Hassle staple, stitching together back porch instrumentation with some unworldly noise — in this case a bizarre buzzing quacking sound that provides counterpoint to the shuffle drums, swaggering guitar and hooting organ. The band also showcases their longstanding fondness for AM radio as they tackle The Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe,” which is wine to the original’s sickly sweet grape juice, and George Jones’s “My Favorite Lies.”
The Death Of Song contains more than enough material to point out the irony in its title. If there weren’t some powerful magic juju songwriting holding these scraps and clichés together, we’d have a big heap of riffs, sound oddities and catchphrases. As it is, Hall and Varenka pull everything together into one solid and impressive platter. The feel here is that of a backyard jam that is on — if you’ve ever been there, you’ll know what I mean, that transcendent moment where every instrument finds its place, settles in, takes off its shoes and heads for the stratosphere.