Honeydogs - 10,000 Years
Wednesday 14 January @ 12:25:24
by Tom Hallett
A friend and I were swapping funny family stories awhile back (you know the kind—whose dad did the craziest shit before you were born, whose mom gets tipsy quicker at parties), and we hit upon the subject of wacky uncles. The end results of my conversation with said buddy concerning wild uncles were that: (A) He won, hands down. I've had some crazy uncles, but his takes the cake. (B) I really realized how much of a difference my own uncles made in my life, even though most of them died when I was very young.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The song form is limitless. You can do anything you want.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Real Cool Time”
But back to my buddy's story. His uncle Woody spent most of his life on a small farm in the midwest, and though he was frequently the life of the party, he—as my friend so succinctly put it—"...wasn't a very nice guy." After years of living with a frigid wife, flirting with anything in a skirt, and embarrassing the family, Uncle Woody lit out for greener pastures.
Folks didn't hear much from him for a few years, until the family received a call one evening around suppertime. Turns out Woody had been living in the seediest part of Miami, Florida, and had been frequenting the even seedier brothels that dotted the city like so many perverted sperm banks.
The day the call came, Woody had been found in the driver's seat of his Cadillac (always drove a Caddy, even when he lived in a crappy six-story walk-up), slumped over the wheel, his clothing all akimbo, one shoe on, one bare foot, dead as a doornail. Though nothing was ever proven, the police figured he'd probably had a heart attack (he was well past 80 at the time) during a visit to one of his favorite ladies of the night, and that the owners of the brothel, in a panic, had quickly dressed him and threw him behind the wheel of his own car. Whatta way to go, man. Thing is, he probably LOVED it—a dirty old bastard right to the end, with a great big final middle finger to the life he'd left behind.
Like I said, my pal's uncle story beats my best one hands down, at least in the shock department as my fave uncle story is one I barely remember, and only in later life found out the truth about.
My uncle Bill had always been a prodigious boozer, and once he got older and his health began to decline, took to hiding his drinkin' from Goldie, his doting wife. At the time, I was around 4 years old, and my folks would occasionally drop me off with Bill and Goldie from while running errands. Being a curious rug rat (and just loving the shit outta his skewed sense of humor), I started following Bill everywhere.
Although he was somewhat of a misanthrope (I say somewhat, because I don't think he hated humanity, he just couldn't take people much), uncle Bill always made me feel at home. Instead of forbidding me to come out into the garage when he wanted a taste, he made a game out of it that I didn't figure out for a long, long time. When a powerful thirst overtook him, he'd rouse me up and say, "Hey, boy—you wanna take a ride to Canada with ol' Uncle Bill?" 'Course, that sounded like the cat's meow to me (still does—more and more everyday), so I'd run along behind him to the garage.
We’d saddle into his pristine 1957 Chevy and he'd reach into the glove box, pull out his flask and two candy bars, take the first himself and hand the latter to me, and pretend to drive. I'm not kidding—the way I remember it, we actually pulled that old car outta the garage and hit the open road, time after time, Bill sippin' whiskey and me munchin' on Clark or Hershey's bars, all the way across the border.
Of course, we never left the garage at all. Ever. It was just that Bill had such a way of makin' it fun that I grew up believing I'd spent a lot of time on the road and sightseeing in Canada. Talk about your self-redeeming misanthrope.
Which brings me to the album I'm reviewing this week—10,000 Years, the latest from the Twin Cities' own Honeydogs. And why, you say, would I compare a record made in the year 2003 with a long-dormant memory of my dead uncle? Well, I'll tellya. 10,000 Years is an album chock fulla exactly those qualities that caused me to admire Uncle Bill so much—lotsa moments that take you right out of your seat and into an imaginary situation that's so real you'd swear it actually happened to you, and, of course, a healthy dose of misanthropy. Not that the band members are misanthropes—lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Adam Levy is a social worker, his brother and the band's drummer, Noah, is about one of the easiest-going, people-friendly cats you'll find, and bassist Trent Norton could charm the liver spots off of the Queen of England's ruddy old face.
Naw, it's not the people who wrote and made this music who are misanthropic, it's us; it's the society Adam's writing about. I imagine in his line of work, he sees more hurt, pain and horror than he could ever just talk about, so he's taken to writing about it in song. And what a gorgeous reflection he and the band have made of a crumbling civilization, too.
The whole delicious mish-mash kicks off with "Dead Stars," a light-hearted-into-melancholic keyboard romp that sets the tone for 10,000 Years with just exactly the right groove: "You'll never guess who I saw/Nailed to her seat at the bar...she told me a child had been born/To carry us through a great storm/A Vadikyn simply adorned/Without the thorns/Hey, here's luck..."
If I just left you with the above paragraph, you might think this album is about some far-out religious trip, but that would be so far off base as to be criminal. The truth is, Adam, Noah and Trent, along with pals Jeff Victor and Brian Halverson, have created in 10,000 Years a space-age pop/rock opera masterpiece that'd make Pete Townshend weep.
And although the liner notes explain the basic foundation (a truly fantastic sci-fi scenario set in a not-too-distant future Earth, where test tube babies are becoming a dominant life-form and "Genocidaires," or anti-test tube revolutionaries, attempt to wipe them out in one humongous, horrific "Final Solution."
Eventually, a savior—Vadikyn—appears to save his people—who, it seems, are more real than the "real" people seeking to wipe them out.), this collection of songs stands on its own—something Pete failed to do with more than a few of his own rock operas.
"Test Tube Kid" is a wistful, tangy pop confection; "Poor Little Sugar" a funky, Beck-ian romp through electronic skaboobles and heavy lyrics—"Last night I went to public housing with my mom and sister/Alright, now we're on the bottom of the waiting list there..."; and "Panhandler's Serenade," a street-wise, beat-heavy skronk-fest with heavenly backing vocals and rousing lines like, "Panhandler's serenade/Tambourine in my pocket/Feels so good/No one can stop me..."
"The Rake's Progress" brings the groove back up, with bright keys, staccato rhythms, and chord progressions modern-day Brian Wilson would sell his left nut for. “Damascus Way” finds the ’Dogs huddled around a fire in a barrel, under an overpass: "Sorry ma'am it's true/Your son nearly died of stab wounds/God willing, he'll come home with you/The night I got out/Met my friends/Went to a party, with a lot of girls/Man got in my face, I had to be a credit to my race..."
"Hygiene" rolls in on majestic Middle Eastern swirls, and conjures images of desert tents, dancing girls and dirty kings. "The magnificent hygiene of war..." repeats Levy, and if you don't realize by now that this album is really all about the world we're living in now, and not some fantastic maybe future, you're lost, pal. The title track is pure Honeydogs, bouncy Americana, ringing acoustic guitars, Noah's snappy pop snare beats: "They're melting their toys down/For the war effort/All the kids are standing in line to enlist/Can we please say goodnight to the last 10,000 years?” Right on, man, right on.
"Ms. Anne Thrope," the album's centerpiece (despite coming near the end), is a goosebump-inducing ballad that ties all the previous cuts together: "Please don't let the children cry/Ms. Anne Thrope..." Held together by the spit and bailing wire of oddball keys wending their way slyly around fluttering minor chords and ghostly backing vocals, this song encapsulates not only the essence of the album, but does a fine job of splattering the musical tears of mankind's last 10,000 years all over this aural canvas.
"Last War Lullaby" blasts out loud an' proud, bringing the Beach Boys, Brian Jones-era Stones and—er—The Honeydogs together in one mouth-watering little combo. "Ms. Anne Thrope!" shouts Adam, as the tune pounds its way into your ears. Side trips like weird, electronic swooshes and phased vocals (not to mention a mock-tribute to Styx in the line, "Killjoy was here!") abound; it stands as a great example of how far this band has come since its humble country-rock beginnings. These guys have gone past global and right into outer fucking space and once you hear this record, you'll wanna climb right aboard the Honeyrocket and go along for the ride.
The final track, "23rd Chromosome," wraps this (not so) far out tale up with smooth, Spanish-inflected strummin', easy vocal lines, and Levy spewing out barbed lyrics like, "They found evil's home/The 23rd chromosome/Murder, famine, love and hate—the side effects of fate/Get set for party cocktails/A million light years away/A place to rest my bones/And Ms. Anne Thrope gathers in her arms all the disfigured and unloved..."
It's very rare to find a concept album that works, even rarer to find one where you'd actually like to read the STORY it comes from. Leave it to The Honeydogs—one of our most under appreciated and talented local outfits—to come up with an album that does both. I'd love every song on here even without knowing the back-story, but tying it all together makes 10,000 Years as close to a musically interactive Bradbury tale as you're gonna get.
There was no doubt in my mind as the last notes of the album rang out of my speakers that I'd just been on an imaginary ride as fanciful and fulfilling as those I took long ago with Uncle Bill. And just like then, I find myself eager an' chompin' at the bit to pay another visit ASAP—I'm sure the 'Dogs have plenty of sticky candy and strong whiskey in their collective glove compartment. Fire 'er up boys, an' let's blast off one more time ...
That's it for this week, gang. Tune in again for more manic music reviews, musty childhood memories, and bibulous blathering. Until we meet again— make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you have an uncle story that beats the hell outta the ones you read here, send replies to: TMygunn777@aol.com