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Twin Town High (vol. 8)
Mars: A Rock And Roll Obsession: Part 2
Monday 09 February @ 15:05:32
By Tom Hallett
"Greetings, Earthlings! We come in pieces. Please do NOT to take us to your leaders. They scare the bejeezus outta us. Anyway, we're here in search of INTELLIGENT life, so they'd do us no good. What might be a smashing good time would be if we could sit down over a bottle of handsomely aged Venutian whiskey and listen to some of the strange emanations and utterances we've overheard you calling 'Rock And Roll.' Got any?"
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "It is a well-known fact that people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it...anyone who is capable of
getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job."
-From The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
SONG OF THE WEEK: "I Am The Fly" -Wire
Why, we most certainly do, Mr. Martian! As a matter of fact, we've got an album spinnin' right now that's sure to not only help inform you on the precarious state of things here on Earth, but to cause your bodacious star-born booties to boogie-woogie like they's on fire, son. Kick back, wrap one of your
six fists around a glass and lend me that sensitive third ear for a spell, won't ya? This one's for you...
Stonefaced On Mars
Track Listing: My First Mistake/Stars And Stripes/They Came From The Stars/Curse Upon The Land/Hyde's In Guys' Heads/European/Mein Hund/MMF/When You
Grow Old/Voices Carry/1-800-Vietnam/Smoke Signals
Personnel: Jake Wisti- Vocals, guitar, violin/Michael Van Gogh- Bass, vocals/Dave Hazledine- Guitar, vocals, harmonica/Tim Hovanetz- Drums, percussion, vocals
Michigan-to-Minnesota transplant Jake Wisti has never been one to mince words when it comes to his opinions on politics, social issues, the military/industrial complex, human sexuality, and damn near anything else you might bring up offhandedly while having a healthy snort at your local. As you may imagine, this predilection for raucous discourse has been known to cause a stir or two, especially in loud bars where you're lucky if you can hear yourself sneeze, let alone understand some guy hollerin' in yer ear about the latest shitty move by the World Trade Commission, ya dig?
Which is why I'm always thrilled to get a fresh batch of Jake's songs in my mailbox- not only do I finally get to really HEAR his sly, needling commentary on everything from the Shrub administration and their ilk to space travel to war to philosophy to old age, but it's backed by absolutely devastating rock an' roll. It's kind of like having Lenny Bruce, Michael Moore, and Wayne Kramer all rolled into one seething, growling, spitting ball of barely-contained righteous wrath. And you can play it LOUD as fuck and it only gets better. I'd like nothing more than to tie Sean Hannity to a stiff church pew and force him to listen to The Centurions over and over until the anti-freeze coursing through his bloodstream comes gushing out his upturned little yuppie nose.
Stonefaced On Mars, Wisti's third proper release with firebrand Twin Cities rockers The Centurions, continues the themes he laid out on the band's first two efforts, Red Button Babies and We Will Destroy U, but finds the outfit honed to a keener, sharper edge as a unit. Crisp, clear recordings (courtesy of cousin Mike Wisti of Albatross Studios fame), lovingly crafted mixes, and a sense of undefined urgency combine to make this album the grandest example yet of what this criminally underrated band can do.
The record literally comes sizzling out of your speakers with the first cut, "My First Mistake"- Wisti and Hazledine matching axes to create a howling, keening moan over the throbbing rhythms of Van Gogh and Hovanitz. Like the aural equivalent of a Mongol horde laying siege to the castle proper, the band absolutely DRIVES into the center of your brain as Wisti yelps: "Somethin' wrong! I've done so many things right/I wanna do somethin' wrong!"
"Stars And Stripes" is a tangy anti-tribute to American foreign policy; a wistful, pop-rock nugget with absolutely scathing lyrics like: "Soldier boy/Have you seen the evil prophets...have you read the news/The third world finds you irritating/Well I don't want to travel around the world like you/With the same colored eyes/Red white and blue/Patriotic with a jaded view/On the same side as you..." Wisti's not deriding the troops, merely commenting on the
ignorance and foolishness of seeing the world through eyes that are "red, white and blue."
Not that your average Right Wing elitist would understand (or even care to understand) the irony in these lyrics- I have no doubt that, if Jake wasn't already on some evil CIA dissident list somewhere, this album will ensure it.
But make no mistake about it, my little be-suited, sunglass-wearing buddies-Wisti is a true patriot- the kind who built this country, not the kind who's busy turning it into an imperialist mockery.
"They Came From The Stars" finds the band switching gears both musically and
lyrically, as they take a dreamy, soulful ballad-type intro and suddenly BLAST
off into a true blue anthem: "They came from the stars/Where they don't drive
fast cars/It's in Sanskrit...and maybe I've found it." Eerie keys (thanks to
Mark Howard) and sound effects add to the gleefully bizarre tone of the song,
and positively otherworldly guitars by Hazledine and Wisti sync up to forge a
grand, sweeping rock showcase any NASA wonk in his right mind (are there any?)
would be proud to stick in a capsule for non-terrestrial consumption a couple
million light-years away.
"Hyde's In Guys' Heads" is a brilliant slam at misogyny and the wickedness
lurking deep in the trenches of the male brain (such as it is), with a brief
guitar intro that's vaguely reminiscent of Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone" (on
purpose, I'm assuming) before Wisti breaks into another anthemic rant, this one
about them slick-talkin' fellows who put up a kind, understanding front to the
opposite sex. "I don't blame you if you have your doubts..." warns Jake,
"...don't worry or get paranoid/There's just a demon and it's called a
boy/Hyde's in guys' heads..." Hilarious, touching, honest, true, and once
again, backed by scorching rock. You won't get this one out of your head for
"European" glides out like a graceful bird in flight, swooping sound effects,
weepy guitars, and hypnotic bass. It also contains one of my favorite lines
from this album: "Float around a planet call it Earth/Entered a canal they call
it birth/I was late and missed the morning sun/Exiled and forgotten/I'm not the
only one..." As Wisti croons and the song builds, you find yourself sliding
along that canal with him, only to chuckle as the monumental wit behind the
lyrics comes clear: "I floated out in space and was a peaceful being/I swear
I'm not responsible for my commitment here..." This song is a prime example of
Jake's ever-expanding songwriting talents, and proves the perfect vehicle for
his vocal abilities, as well.
Other standouts include "MMF" ("He's the meanest mother fucker in the
neighborhood!"), a ringing, beat-happy slice of socio-political commentary that
comes off like a Band-augmented, futuristic update of Dylan's "Neighborhood
Bully," "When You Grow Old," a rollicking, funny-as-shit (literally) poke at
your future as one who's less than young: "You're gonna have a bedpan when you
grow old/And I-eye-I-oh...the screamin' nurses they laugh at me/You're gonna
have a bedpan when you grow old..." and "Smoke Signals," a dirty-sweet ode to a
tobacco-stained love affair.
I can't leave off without mentioning the band's phenomenal cover of 'Til
Tuesday's "Voices Carry," as well. Wisti's violin playing augments an
already-gorgeous melody, and hearing a male voice on the '80's classic brings
the tune fresh, new life. Jake's refusal to change the lyrics from a female to
male perspective (he keeps the lines, "In the dark I'd like to read his
mind...there must be something he's thinkin' of to turn him away...when I tell
him that I'm fallin' in love/What does he say/Hush hush, keep it down
now/Voices carry...") and the band's tight but warm reading of the music all
mesh to such a poignant level that I can't even imagine ever wanting to hear
the original again. THAT'S how you kick a cover's ass, kids.
"Wowee-zowee, Earthling! That ruled! As a matter of fact, while we were
listening to the album, I did a quick mind-scan of the rest of Earth and am
happy for to announce that Stonefaced On Mars is the ONLY thing I'll need to
bring back to my home planet. Your Wisti-man covers all the bases here, and I
just HAVE to play "Smoke Signals" for our Supreme Leader- She's been
cultivating those samples of fine green tobacco we clipped during our last
visit here early in your planet's history and will surely be grinning from ear
to ear to ear when She hears it!"
OK, little space buddy. Thanks for listenin'. Glad I could help. Oh, hey, do
you think I might be able to catch a lift from you guys? Where to? Hell, I
don't care. Anywhere but here sounds good to me. How about the first
intergalactic space bar we come to that features live music and carries fine
Venutian whiskey? Yeah? Cool, let me grab my stash and we'll- (ZAP!)
End transmission. Fleshy carbon-based life form no longer within this
broadcast range. Refer messages to Jupiter satellite bar "Space Daddy's Old
Home Juke Joint And Grill" in case of emergency. Until next closing time- make
yer own damn news.
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