So I’m reading this Guided By Voices tell-all biography in an attempt to catch up on the last 20 years of their music. Being a child of the 2000s with respect to my artistic tastes, I seemed to have missed out on the lo-fi indie movement altogether, until people old enough to be my father kept mentioning bands like Guided By Voices and Pavement with a kind of religious reverence. And I have to say, my first impressions of the whole scene weren’t too great. I wasn’t immediately “struck” by the enormity of their talents. But here I am, reading a Guided By Voices biography in an attempt to “get” it, and I’m just starting to gain some perspective. In order to fully appreciate some music, it’s necessary to suspend one’s critical faculties and just dive straight in, to accept that the mind behind it is infallibly brilliant, and that any misgivings on one’s own part are nothing but critical paranoia. Once this happens, something clicks, and just like that a once scorned album turns into a perennial favorite. To paraphrase Scat records founder Robert Griffin on Guided By Voices’ notoriously abrasive Vampire on Titus, “Once you get inside, it’s a pretty big house in there.” This is the mindset with which to approach the Unsacred Hearts, so take my hand and let’s step inside the house.
The original Unsacred Hearts formula was a simple one: bang it out fast and loud, rely heavily on frequent references (both lyrical and musical) to the rock ‘n roll music that they worshipped, and drink as much beer as possible all the time. In striving to be equal parts Bruce Springsteen, Robert Pollard, and Lou Reed, the Unsacred Hearts succeeded in creating something that’s entirely their own, and a handful of listeners responded with appropriate enthusiasm. One critic once wrote, “They’re less of a band than they are UPS delivery-men, each song a neat little 3 minute package of tight catchy riffs and shout/sung lyrics, each song like getting a hallmark card from your Nana but instead of there being a ten dollar bill inside it just says ‘Fuck you.'” Another affirmed, “The Unsacred Hearts take their music wherever they damn well feel like, and they do it with a certainty and swagger that is becoming rare.” Over the years, the band’s evolved as the lineup’s changed (Andy Bean of the Two Man Gentlemen Band replaced original bassist Andy Ross when he left in 2005 to join OK Go) and its members have mellowed out a bit with age. The urgency of their early records has dissipated somewhat, and the interest on their ten dollar “fuck you” has accrued to a hundred dollar “I don’t really give a fuck.” And they don’t. Well, they do, but they don’t. These are musicians who care deeply about their music and how it’s presented, but if they happen to come across as a bit too abrasive on first listen, they’re not about to write a postcard asking for a second chance. It’s your loss, not theirs.
Ampeater is proud to premiere two new Unsacred Hearts songs on this 7-inch: A-side “Fake Kisses” and B-side “Sleepwalker”. The band generally divides their catalog into “rock” tunes (which are more post-punk than anything else) and “jazzy” tunes (meaning, anything other than “rock” tunes). Over time, the balance of “rock” tunes to “jazzy” tunes shifted from something like 90/10 to 30/70, and the band now regularly indulges in moments (and even whole songs) during which the testosterone oozing from their amplifiers has a chance to regroup and listen to something pretty. Even “Fake Kisses,” which is more or less perfectly representative of the Unsacred Hearts’ “rock” side, has an air of maturity about it that didn’t exist at all on their 2004 Unsacred Hearts EP and was only hinted at on 2006’s In Defense of Fort Useless. The tune opens with a groove-setting intro riff on the komuz, of all instruments. Guitar-master Dave Siegel brought this Kyrgyzstani influence into the mix (a little George Harrison, anyone?) and it’s a welcome addition to his brilliantly spastic guitar solo (a little Keith Richards, anyone?). Part of what makes the Unsacred Hearts more worthy of serious consideration than your average bar band is the sheer virtuosity of all its members. Drummer Travis Harrison is an absolute beast on the skins (tune in to the drum feature that starts around 2:30), and gentleman Andy Bean lays down a rock solid bass. And then there’s vocalist and lyricist Joe Willie. He doesn’t so much sing as he does yell, and I’m never sure whether he’s yelling at me or with me, but I suppose it’s at times one, at times the other, and most of the time a bit of both. A little passive-aggressive attitude goes a long way, and it’s an essential part of what makes the Unsacred Hearts a truly great band.
Side B “Sleepwalker” is scheduled for release on the Unsacred Hearts’ upcoming LP The Honor Bar (due out in 20something on Serious Business Records). This, in contrast to “Fake Kisses,” is a so-called “jazzy song,” and is a bit more representative of the band’s “new direction” (see: Tap, Spinal (n.) new direction). Not to belittle the instrumental content in the slightest, but this tune is really carried by Joe Willie’s lyrics. The struggle of the Unsacred Hearts has always been how to properly frame the lyrical content while maintaining a consistent instrumental aesthetic. If “Sleepwalker” is any indication, they’ve finally mastered this balance on The Honor Bar. Certain albums go best with a nice thick book of lyrics, and this is undoubtedly one of them. So, to save you the trouble of transcribing them yourself, there are the first two verses and the chorus:
I don’t wanna stay in my bed so farewell avenue with yr beauty monitor
Farewell Eveline with yer mother’s sick jokes I am here no more I am here no more
I felt my pulse in the dark the news was grim but I slept soundly then I rose at four
To gaze before the mirror in naked health it was dark I am invisible
I get caught sleepwalking in the moonlight
A riddle in the street in the middle of the night
I get caught sleepwalking in the moonlight
People think it’s strange I think it’s alright
It makes funny story but this turbulent situation is no more
Noon sun doldrums have settled like painkillers Einstein voted man of the century
He must be happy we must be happy for him and thank for his notions of time reverberating
From the cellar to the attic keeping me up at night keeping me up at night
I’ve never been one for poetry, or really even lyrics, so when a lyricist commands my attention in a musical context, it means that something truly spectacular is going on. Jeff Mangum does that for me, so does Adrian Orange, and so does Joe Willie. So do yourself a favor and listen, I mean really listen, to what these guys have to say. It may not hook you on first listen, it may not hook you on second listen, but a lot of great literature doesn’t exactly grab you by the collar and pull you in. It’s like reading Ulysses–it might be a little hard to get into, but you’ll be glad for the rest of your life that you made the effort and got through the sucker. It’ll change how you see the world, and if you’re lucky, how the world sees you back. So have a listen, and get into it.