by Keith Pille
The thing that most starkly sets rock ’n’ roll apart from other styles of music is its embrace of amateurism. At a very fundamental level, rock celebrates raw emotion over polished technique. The examples are endless: if you’ve taken four guitar lessons, you’re capable of playing anything the Ramones ever wrote; most of Guided By Voices’ records sound as though the band had to leave the studio in a hurry to escape from mobsters; most of Jimmy Page’s Led Zeppelin guitar solos feature a couple of dead notes; and Minneapolis’ patron saint Paul Westerberg has only in the past few years learned that the quality of his solo albums have a direct relationship with how sloppy they are.
Download an mp3 of Landing Gear’s song Surprise, Surprise.
the face of this, it would seem that there’s no room in rock and roll for
perfectionism. But they say that it’s the exception that proves the rule,
and the Twin Cities’ Landing Gear are living proof that a band can sweat
blood getting every detail of an album right and still rock with the best of them.
Their first full-length CD, Breakup Songs for Relationships that Never Happened,
is the result of a four-year gestation period in which the band made sure they
were creating something perfect.
“It’s kind of tricky for us at this stage,” says Landing Gear
singer/guitarist Jay Hurley, who founded the band back in 1998. “We’ve
all been playing in bands for years. I think for all of us, it’s a top three
priority in our lives, but it’s not number one. I think other things have
taken precedence—you know, family and things like that. Work. But it’s
still something that we’re very passionate about and very serious. We put
a lot of time and effort into what we do. It’s not just ‘get together,
have fun, fuck around.’ Whatever we do, we want it to be awesome ... We
want to do amazing stuff. And because we can’t spend every moment doing
it, it becomes a little patchwork at times. And then you put yourself in this
position where because you have time, you start to second-guess what you’re
doing. There was a whole process where we were investing money into nice studios,
and going in and not finishing things. Then our drummer bought a house and we
decided to do some things on our own, thinking that might expedite the process.
But that sort of only added to the problem. ‘We can spend all week on this
one track!’ We spent a lot of time arranging and producing and just trying
to figure out what was going to be best for the song.”
David West adds, “You can keep on cranking out a bunch of shit, and then
you run the course of the band, kind of. You’re like, ‘well, we’ve
been doing all this and nobody cares, so let’s stop playing.’ This
way, we feel like we’re accomplishing something. It’s just a matter
of what you want out of it.”
The process may have been arduous, but Landing Gear got what they wanted. Breakup
Songs sounds like the labor of love it was. Borrowing elements from several
genres without really sounding like any of them (Hurley’s voice sounds a
little like the Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan; several songs feature sweeping,
textured guitar backgrounds that recall Golden Age Duran Duran; West’s drum
work on “Song #4” wouldn’t sound out of place on Achtung
Baby); Breakup Songs ultimately forms its own unique, unified whole. The songs,
loaded with sensory elements and pithy observations (“Between love and hate,
there’s only vodka and a song”), evoke the moments people share that
always stand for some bigger situation. Between the lines, even when the songs
are upbeat, is a sense of impending, crushing loss.
And, as with everything else on Breakup Songs, this was intentional. “It
seems like the art of the album is lost,” Hurley says. “You know,
you put your two good songs at the beginning, and the rest is whatever you can
muster. Lyrically, it became this thing where I was recalling situations with
people—I’m trying to be as vague as possible about this, not get too
specific but still do it justice—It’s about idealized moments. Having
experience with people, having them in your life for a short amount of time, and
having them not be there any more and you’re left with this sort of image
of them, or an outline. Or an idealized moment. And because maybe you don’t
have anything else in your life to hold on to, that’s what you’re
like snapshots of times and people,” West adds.
In print, this sounds almost grim, but, well, that’s why it’s always
better to listen to music than to read about it. The album’s collection
of fleeting moments of despair add up, like the parts of some brilliantly-constructed
machine, to a unified artistic statement that’s almost impossible to resist.
Sometimes, something sad can be beautiful enough to transcend simple emotion.
Landing Gear plays on Sat., Dec. 11 at the Hexagon Bar with Chop Logic,
Icy Water. 9 p.m. 21+. Free. 2600 27th Ave., Mpls. 612-722-3454.
Check out Landing Gear on their official website at LandingGearMusic.com.
Download an mp3 of Landing Gear’s song Surprise,