My last experience with a band whose drummer played one drum while standing up didn’t end well. I went to see a different band, and I can’t quite remember which one it was, but I’m sure they were good. (I do remember. They weren’t.) The standing drummer band was the opener. The trio was called Freeze Tag, and I hope to god they’re long gone. I’m sure they are, anyway. See, they weren’t actually that bad – in fact, they were so not that bad that I wanted to buy their shirt after the show. I was intrigued by the live setup – the single snare for percussion gave them a non-acoustic Violent Femmes vibe. (It also helped that they were the only band with a decent merch item.) I talked with the girl in their band (I can’t remember if she sang or what) and she regrettably informed me that their shirts had sold out. She told me that they were printing more, and that if I gave her the $10 for one along with my address, she’d send me one.
Guess what? I never saw the shirt. Nor did I get my $10 back. Starving college student loses again.
I bring this up here because Ed Schrader would never ever ever fuck me over like that. And he does that same drum thing. But mostly it’s the former – that Schrader’s an honest man if I’ve ever heard one, and I like him. He’s a baseball fan, just like me. Though I’m a Philly boy at heart, I grew up idolizing Cal Ripken Jr., and I think that has to account for something to a diehard Baltimorean. [AU Note: And as of this moment, we’re both more invested in football season than the MLB playoffs.] And his affiliation with Load Records – home of some of the best experimental noise rock ever laid to tape, from Lightning Bolt to Sightings – helps Schrader exude a dirty, gritty honesty, manifested as street cred. I say it again: street cred. In italics. But don’t take my word for it.
Jazz Mind spans quite a large stylistic gorge, with piledriving sludge anthem “Sermon” kicking off the album, showcasing just how brutal two dudes with a floor tom, a bass, and a mic between them can be. (Devlin Rice is Schrader’s foil on bass.) “Gem Asylum” and “Traveling,” on the other hand – the absolute opposite other hand – are studies in minimalist composition, with spare bass notes and periodic synthesizer twinkling on the former (as well as an a capella bridge) and a slightly quicker pace but similar instrumentation on the latter. It’s a sort of Martin-Rev-circa–“Hop and Scotch”/No Age hybrid that tantalizes and keeps you guessing as you dig deeper into the tracklist.
And speaking of No Age, Schrader’s lined up a couple of guest appearances for the album, one of whom is Randy Randall who lends some guitar texture to “My Mind Is Broken by the Sound.” Matmos shows up on two tracks as well, adding some noisey accompaniment to the marshal “Right,” as well as the gorgeous two-part “AIR SHOW / I Can’t Stop Eating Sugar.” And as much as I want to herald their contribution to the latter, it’s all Schrader as “AIR SHOW” is an a capella meditation focused inward: “On the ceiling fan, a troubled man, a hazy dude.” “I Can’t Stop Eating Sugar” brings back the bass and drums as it creeps along, its title repeated as an unusual approximation of a bewildered, greedy spiral of indulgence.
Much of the album spends its time going back and forth between the stylistic camps, with “When I’m in a Car” and “Gas Station Attendant” also hewing closely to the template introduced in “Sermon, and “Do the Maneuver” and “My Mind Is Broken by the Sound” splitting the difference in a pleasant sort of no wave territory a few intensity notches above the minimalist fare. And this is what makes Ed Schrader’s Music Beat such an enticing proposition (beyond their unique personnel arrangement): the duo thrives no matter which direction they decide to go. There’s a surprising depth and breadth achieved through the band’s limitations, and even though the album is brief (eleven songs in twenty minutes), it feels full and eminently repeatable.
Wham City is fortunate to count Ed Schrader’s Music Beat among its extended family, and if the band manifested itself as a two-headed Oriole, I’d see it following a career path featuring peaks resembling those of Mike Bordick and Brian Roberts – scrappy, with doubles power. Yeah, I’d definitely buy a Schrader shirsey to wear to the ballpark. I would, though, make sure the shirsey was actually in stock before I bought it. Not that I’m not somewhat trusting, and you know that I know I wouldn’t get the shaft, but you have to learn some lessons as you go.
[Ed. note: What kind of metaphor is that to wrap this up? Hoo boy. Next you’ll be extrapolating a band’s WAR over a 162-game season.]
[PS: Freeze Tag, if you’re reading this, you still owe me ten bucks.]
RIYL: Martin Rev, Blank Dogs, No Age
“WHEN I’M IN A CAR”