by Steve McPherson
It’s a pretty safe bet that any band named after the hero of a Kurt Vonnegut novel (that’d be “Sirens of Titan”) wouldn’t be in danger of taking themselves too seriously. And when a band has song titles like “New York City is Full of Pussies” and “Sex Fantasy” and sounds neither like heavy metal nor sexed-out R&B, you know the tongue is firmly planted in the cheek. I should mention that they actually use the word weltanschauung (German for worldview) in the song “Princess Billionaire.” If you’re familiar with Malachi Constant, you’ve already been treated to some seriously over-the-top riffage and densely layered instrumental music, but MC has a surprise for all of you: they found a microphone.
a lot more singing than we have done in the past,” says guitarist Carl
Wedoff, who’s now been promoted to lead vocals as well. “I guess
every time a band records they should treat it like their last record, because
you never know what’s going to happen. We were very much like, this is
our last record.”
MC’s fatalistic mindset stemmed from the fact that their longtime drummer,
Alex McCown, had decided to leave the band to pursue his studies in New York
City, leaving Wedoff, guitarist Ben Hecker and bassist Sean Harrison to decide
how to proceed. With the remaining time before McCown’s departure, they
decided they may as well record the songs they’d been working on.
“We’ve generally been more of an instrumental kind of band with
a little singing,” Wedoff says when I ask about what sets their new album
Pride (Modern Radio/Guilt-Ridden Pop) apart from their previous stuff.
“It sounds more conventional, probably, than our others. It doesn’t
sound as self-consciously experimental, but for us, coming from being more [of
an experimental] kind of band, being a little more conventional, with a little
more singing and shorter songs [is] an experimental kind of thing. What if we
sang on every song? A verse and a chorus!”
Despite verses and choruses, Pride is something of a spiky affair. On
their last disc, Infinite Justice, any sung parts came off more as commentary
while the guitars were stacked high on a forklift driven around a post-punk
junkyard by the rhythm section. Right from Pride’s opener “Quid
Pro Quo,” however, static and bitcrushed drums build until a single stinging
guitar ziplines in, riding the steady groove into a keyboard break with enough
negative space to park a Buick in before we get some of Wedoff’s honest-to-god
decipherable vocals. Moment
to moment, it’s recognizably the same band that’s been putting out
records for going on seven years, but their highwire muso antics are now being
performed without the net of dense multi-layered sound and with the added death-defying
feat of staking the songs to lyrics. As such, the sounds and influences jut
out more. The whole thing sounds kind of like Red Medicine-era Fugazi
going out with American Analog Set for a beer and then getting into a drunken
knife-fight with Squarepusher and Guided By Voices on the way home. “Sex
Fantasy” recalls Wilco’s “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” and like
that band’s best, Pride wraps a tone of gauzy assurance around
edgy experimentalism borne of a last-night-in-town mentality.
“We didn’t record with Mike Wisti [of Rank Strangers] this time,”
continues Wedoff. “We have weird EPs and CD-Rs that came out before anything,
but [2002’s] Zenith was our first real record and we’ve been
recording with Mike the entire time. This time—just because we’d
always recorded with Mike—it was like, let’s record with someone
else. Just so we can say we didn’t only record with one guy. Let’s
see what happens. Mike knows our band really well and the guy Bruce [Templeton],
who did it [this time], had heard us before, but he hadn’t recorded us
six times, so it was a different approach.”
We can just generously call it a laissez-faire approach. “We sort
of did it for the hell of it,” Wedoff says, “and I’ve known
Tom Loftus [of Modern Radio] for a long time, as friends, and he said, ‘We’ll
put out your record if you guys are still playing.’ And around the same
time Nick [Shuminsky, from Superhopper] said, ‘If you guys are looking
for a drummer, we could try to work it out.’ He actually played with us
a long time ago when we were a new band and Alex was studying abroad. He would
fill in [sometimes].
not at the level where we can have dudes living in five different cities and
say we’ll make so much money at this show that we’ll fly you out.
If it hadn’t been Nick, I don’t know that we would have even kept
on playing. But we liked the new CD enough that we felt like it could be put
out. Since we had a drummer, it was like, OK, let’s just keep on going.”
A lot of bands don’t seem to have the sense to call it quits when it’s
over, but as long as there’s a possibility for some kind of growth and
innovation, why not keep at it? “I think there’s two bad paths you
can take,” Wedoff says, “and one is you do the same album and the
songs are still kind of good but it doesn’t have that undercurrent of
amazingness and coolness. That excitement. And then the other direction is:
we’re going to do a totally new thing. And then you go from being a cool
rock and roll band to a bunch of keyboards and you’ve got a DJ and all
of a sudden you were a really solid punk band and now you have a DJ?”
For now, they’ve tweaked their M.O. enough to keep things interesting,
and while they have tentative plans to do some touring, they’re not under
the illusion that all of a sudden abstract, post-punk rock is going to be the
new black. Hecker and Shuminsky work at city hall, Harrison goes to Minneapolis
Community Techincal College and Wedoff is in law school. “We’re
known well enough locally that we have fun,” says Wedoff, “and we
like touring when we can, but I don’t know. Maybe we’ll write a
bunch of songs and want to record them or maybe Ben or Nick will run for public
office. Law school’s tough; there’s a lot of bullies. I get picked
on a lot.” ||
Malachi Constant are playing two CD release shows for Pride: Fri., Feb.
24 at the Turf Club with Hockey Night, The Vets and Gay Beast. 10 p.m. $5. 21+.
Corner of University and Snelling Aves., St. Paul. 651-647-0486. And Sat., Feb.
25 at the Dinkytowner with Hockey Night, Signal to Trust and The Deaf. 6 p.m.
$5. All Ages. 412 ½ 14th Ave. S.E., Mpls. 612-362-0437.
For more info on Malachi Constant, visit their website.