Sunday, 19 December 2010

Chisel - '8 AM All Day' (Gern Blandsten)

I was sixteen years old and my music friend (the man responsible for making me mixtapes which forever cemented my interest in mid-90s indie rock) was trying to get me into Superchunk. He had succeeded in showing me the ways of Pavement, Sebadoh and some minor cult faves who you will hear about later. Superchunk actually came to town during this period, but I didn't go, as I had yet to become hip to their sounds. My friend returned from the gig with his mind blown by the opening act, Chisel. I remember him saying "They took the stage and then played the most amazing songs I ever heard"; he snapped up both of their CDs and immediately dubbed them for me. Now I eventually did become a Superchunk fan, but it's because of Chisel that I regret missing that show (I would later see both bands). Now I've nearly doubled in age, but 8 AM All Day is one of those CDs that I've taken with me from place to place, pulling it out at least once a year for a trip down memory lane. It has become no less sweet with time. This is one of the prime artefacts from an era where I learned every millisecond of my favourite albums by heart, finding deep connections to the songs that tapped into a physicality and a lyrical connection as well. Yeah, that doesn't happen anymore. For one thing, I'm not sixteen anymore. I still remember every millisecond of this album and I'm glad I do! At the time, I didn't know much about the DC-area hardcore scene (of which Gern Blandsten, the label, was a player, releasing a bunch of other records though I can only remember Merel right now) or the history of mod-influenced power pop. Ted Leo has never shied away from his appreciation of Paul Weller or Joe Jackson but I didn't know any better then. All I knew was that 'The Dog in Me' was the perfect summation of everything I wanted indie rock to be. It was fast, and aggressive, with an awesome guitar solo/buildup at the end, backing vocals during the chorus that showed an appreciation of pop saccharine, and a line like "Trying to touch that sound/and not let it get me down/when nobody comes around". Of course that's magic to my ears, because this stuff was all part of a secret club for me, and I was on the outside looking in. Ah, this whole fucking album still stands up as a masterpiece to my older, jaded ears. The opening cut, 'Hip Straights', explodes with the line "Why don't we go walking for awhile?", intensifying in pitch and energy as the song goes on. I was amazed by Ted Leo's guitar playing - I thought at the time he was the best guitarist I had ever seen (it was 1997 when I finally saw them) because he could shred these inventive, fast licks and sing at the same time! 'What About Blighty?' was as fast and hardcore as I could take it then, and I still jump around when listening to it. 'Your Star is Killing Me' was on the first album (Nothing New, my copy of which seems to have disappeared) but re-done here with twice the energy. And then the immaculate 'Looking Down at the Great Wall of China From Way Up High in the Sky', whose lyrics are far more whiny and self-centered than such a grandiose title would indicate. The tempo cuts back for this one, and the endless guitar lead is like a knife slicing through butter. I didn't really know what 'emo' was at this time but this sure woulda been it! Even now I shouted out "I still care about her / yeah I really like her a whole whole lot" while listening, though typing it make me realise that at 16 I wasn't so concerned about fear of commitment. The rest of the album continues to be great. The title track has a brilliant cadence that almost re-works 'The Dog in Me', yet it's still a distinct song. 'Out for Kicks' is an actual reworking of a song from Nothing New, with new lyrics, and perhaps the most overtly Jam-styled number. And then the beautiful, beautiful closing pair of songs, 'Citizen of Venus' and 'Breaking Up with Myself'. Leo's songwriting was a better glimpse into the world I dreamt of than the bigger names like Malkmus or Barlow could manage; the emotions conveyed now pretty much summed up my life from age 18-22, when I was still listening to Chisel but a lot less frequently. So what happened to Chisel? They made another album which I anticipated like nothing else in the world, but was disappointed by; Ted Leo went on to a solo career that wasn't bad, but I never really got into except for one album (Hearts of Oak). I grew up and never stopped loving 8 AM All Day, and I love meeting others who share it with me. It's not the life-altering artistic statement of an Astral Weeks or even an Alien Lanes, but it's perfect nonetheless.

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