“Suppose you’re thinkin’ about a plate of shrimp … suddenly somebody’ll say ‘plate,’ or ‘shrimp’ or ‘plate of shrimp’ out of the blue, no explanation!”
These famous words of Miller from Alex Cox’s Repo Man have resounded throughout the human heart since the dark, dark time of the early 1980s, and to me, it put a name to a phenomenon as strange and troubling as deja vu or missing socks: the “lattice of coincidence!” For the first time in your life, you discover the beauty of cheese fondue. Suddenly, within the next 24 hours, six unrelated people you know mention the word fondue under different circumstances. The nature of this “lattice of coincidence” will forever be uncertain, but it’s a comforting thing to know that I’m not the only person in the world who’s experienced it.
Does anyone remember that internet fad of EARLY 2013? Kick-goer, I think it was called? Well, anyway, purely by coincidence (…eh? eh?), I pledged ten dollars to a decent-looking music project by a band hailing from Lynchburg, Virginia, by the name of Glass Oaks. Had I thought to finish the video, I might’ve caught this sooner, but the bassist for the band, Taylor Thompson, is an old family friend and former high-school band-mate of my older brother, Paul (what’s up, Taylor? the beard is looking pretty Norse-god-like.). Well, after waiting a month or so and then downloading the early-release kickstarter EP, I listened to it earnestly. It was over too soon; five fairly short songs don’t give you a lot of time to soak it in. So, I re-started the EP and listened again. And again.
The debut recording from Glass Oaks is more than passably engaging. It may be a little on the lean side, but I’m happy they didn’t try to fill it out with throw-away songs that would’ve bogged down the experience. I’ve recently discovered how to use a miraculous device known only to the most masterful chefs—a “slow-cooker.” So, I’m going to compare the Glass Oaks record to something that’s been weighing heavily on my mind: pot roast. See, a good pot roast is made by taking essentially good ingredients, throwing them all together and letting them stew for a very long time on low heat. You throw in some potatoes and carrots, a few cloves of garlic, whatever. The point is, all these ingredients are left in nearly boiling water; slowly developing the perfect level of softness, soaking up the juices while fat melts off the meat, leaving it tender and succulent. Fat is essential to a good pot roast, you don’t want to make one with meat that’s too lean; the meat may be what we come to the table for, but the fat in which it’s stewed is what makes us stay past the first bite. It gives the meat flavor; style.
In a similar manner, Glass Oaks, is made up of a series of top-notch ingredients—excellent songwriting, great musicians, a sense of relaxed professionalism—which have simply been left to interact with one another until they finally came together in the perfect combination; like Shakespeare’s monkeys or some such. And as for the album itself; that is a perfect pot roast of an EP if I ever saw one! Each song is more meaty than the last, but none is so packed with substance that there’s not room for at least a little bit of stylistic flair; be it a great bass riff, a few impassioned shouts from the singer or a gut-busting guitar solo the likes of which Jack Black would be proud.
The opening track, “Middle of It,” is an excellent straight-up rock song, featuring a great guitar solo, and perfect tone from singer Joel Kaiser. It grabs you right from the beginning, with a fun guitar riff and a catchy beat that doesn’t let up for fear of losing the listener’s interest. It’s a very powerful note for a band to open its debut with, and sets a pretty high precedent for the next four songs.
Track #2, “Spirit Man,” is essentially the band’s way of telling us “Yeah, that was fun, but we’re not just a rock ‘n’ roll party band. We’ve got stuff to say.” I respect that. I really do, but “Spirit Man” is such an entertaining song that I can’t summon up the strength to care how heartfelt the lyrics are or how passionate Kaiser’s voice sounds. It’s just a really good song. It’s very summer-soundtrack-y too. Another good performance from Kaiser accompanied by a rhythm guitar, with a second guitar meandering in the background on a couple of pedals, just in case you get tired of listening to the main melody. It sounds very simple, but it’s just so well-executed.
Track #4, “One Word,” sounds like a song that might be passed around a campfire with some friends, led by one guy who kind of plays guitar. Not the lyrics maybe, but the music itself has the same sort of convivial existentialism that every teen has experienced while warming himself around hot flames on a cool summer night with a few good friends. “One Word” also contains what have become my favorite lyrics on the entire EP; very introspective and touching.
It’s only five tracks long, but each song on the Glass Oaks EP is incredibly strong, showing an impressive level of discernment from the band. The musical style is nothing new, and they don’t even bother attempting any sort of indie-rock gimmickry or genre-fusion; they take a gamble on their strength as musicians and songwriters, and in my opinion they made the right decision. No frills, no distractions, just really well-executed music from a very promising new band (thanks, kickstarter!). There’s plenty of meat in here, and plenty of fat to chew for flavor, but they left out all the bones, serving up a beautiful, entertaining and thoroughly palatable experience. The EP is currently available for free download (with an optional donation button you can feel free to exercise at your discretion). Please, share and enjoy.
RIYL: Wilco, Dr. Dog, Old 97s