I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
(Dracula Horse, 2010)
Sometimes it’s easier to identify music with films than it is to place within the context of genre, or even musical contemporaries or geographical scenes. Take for example Simple Minds (The Breakfast Club), The Psychedelic Furs (Pretty in Pink), or Oingo Boingo (Weird Science), and you should immediately have a great sense of place as well as a tune running through your head, inextricable from its environment. C’mon, you’re humming “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” right now, aren’t you? Admit it. You’re seventeen again, confused, wired, in love, pissed off – it hits that perfect spot and grounds you somewhere singular.
(Is it coincidence that the first three examples I could think of are all from John Hughes films? Dude had a knack for elevating the pop song to iconic status. Maybe the 1980s was just a good decade in which to contribute music to movies.)
The all-caps-all-the-time COOLRUNNINGS (named after the Jamaican bobsled film from the decade’s ass end, har har) fits this theme – it’s hard not to think of anything besides the California of the 1980s while spinning these tunes, as the band conjures the teen mishaps – drunk, stoned, or otherwise – inherent in films such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Lost Boys, or Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. And if Babes Forever’s “San Dimas Oasis” is any indication, that latter film is a good starting point for the group’s vibe, even though Eddie Van Halen is no influence; nor is Wyld Stallyns, for that matter. Instead, enjoying cheap beer while sun-baking (or clam-baking) on the dunes or wandering the boardwalk scoping babes (fitting) are better activities for the school-skipping slackers COOLRUNNINGS ostensibly target. Hell, who doesn’t like having a bit of fun in the sun, amIright?
Babes Forever, released on August 11 this year, beat Buffalo to the Internet by a mere day, essentially tying these two EPs together as a joint release. Babes is the stronger of the two, but I certainly don’t mean to sell Buffalo short. The band’s easygoing California charm (although they’re from “Knox Dimas Tennefornia, Tennessee, US,” according to their Myspace profile – fine, they’re from Knoxville) spans the releases and unifies them. Buffalo starts strong with the galloping “Burnout” and the more restrained “The Second Devil,” the buzz of the recording and synthesizers and the fuzz on the vocals quickly endears the band to the listener. It feels like you’re in the next room, on your fifth PBR or second bong hit, waiting for the boys to finish up the track so they can join you in a celebratory toast. The community feel is very Islands-esque (or even Unicorns-esque), as if Nick Thorburn was COOLRUNNINGS’ guiding spiritual guru – the two could easily share a bill.
But as heady and relaxed as Buffalo is, Babes Forever trumps it ever so slightly. “San Dimas Oasis” invites you to chill in the sand and surf: “San Dimas Oasis, take off your shirt, it’s free,” intones one of the dual-songwriting tandem of Forrest Ferguson or Brandon Biondo, but I couldn’t tell you which one (they sound somewhat similar). “Babes Forever” has a true island vibe, a tranquil rhythm recalling the Jamaican seaside where love is in the air: “I love you forever, I want to show you what I know how!” (Thorburn undoubtedly would be pleased.) They mix it up well on the back end too, cycling through ’80s pop and doo wop (“Better Things”), blissful stoner reveries (“When I Got High With You,” “Slumberland”), and quirky surf-billy stomp (“Trippin’ Balls at Der Wienerschnitzel,” aping the pogo-goofballery of Think About Life). It’s all in good fun, ripe material for high fives and doofy grins, friends hanging out in basements and around bonfires, beachside or otherwise. Relax – COOLRUNNINGS says so.
I kind of took a different approach here in highlighting two EPs in one post – both start with “B,” both were released in 2010 on Dracula Horse, and both have the same vibe. But I also wanted Buffalo as my post picture – you can see their NSFW cover of Babes Forever when you inevitably check out their tunes over at yonder bandcamp. Or download from their label. Take your pick.
RIYL: Islands, Soft Cell, (early) Modest Mouse