(The Self-Starter Foundation)
Soft Rock is a posthumous collection of early music by a short-lived band that you've probably never heard of. Why care? Because at their very best, which is captured on the first six tracks of this two-disc compilation and occasionally throughout the rest of the 40 songs collected here, Lifter Puller approached greatness.
This Minneapolis band broke up shortly after the release of their apotheosis, 2000's brilliant concept album Fiestas & Fiascos. Three years later their cult seems to have actually grown, thus Soft Rock, which compiles almost everything the band recorded prior to Fiestas & Fiascos -- their eponymous 1996 debut, 1997's Half Dead and Dynamite, and 1998's The Entertainment and Arts EP, plus a handful of singles, demos, and stray tracks. On it you can hear the band evolve from a fine if borderline conventional indie-rock band into the outfit that can be heard on Fiestas & Fiascos, a band that was basically a genre unto itself.
In the band's final form, lead singer Craig Finn looked like late-'70s Elvis Costello, sounded like croaking Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachman, and spewed narratives with the verbosity of early Springsteen (a direct influence paid homage to with song titles "11th Avenue Freezeout" and "Candy's Room"). The band mostly eschewed verse-chorus-verse in favor of straight-line stream-of-consciousness, Finn giving the impression of making each song up as he goes along, like a stand-up comic enraptured in a rant a few steps beyond merely funny. And the band sounds like they're just following his cues, their stuttering stop-start dynamics, angular post-punk guitar riffs, and funky-drummer beats simultaneously propelling Finn's monologues and playing off them. The effect sounds more spontaneous than perhaps any guitar-bass-drums song-music I've ever heard, even if it's all no doubt worked out in great detail.
And the band's unique form served equally idiosyncratic content, their great subject summed up by a song title from Fiestas & Fiascos: "Lifter Puller Vs. The End of the Evening." The band's entire career seemed to follow one long nightlife adventure with recurring places and characters (a bar called the Nice Nice, drug dealer Nightclub Dwight, paramours Juanita, Jenny, and Katrina). It's a chronicle of drugs, alcohol, anonymous sex, and long nights hopping from bar to bar, club to club, concert to concert. One of my favorite moments is when they hang out in front of a club in the early-morning hours and pour their drinks into the street in memory of dead-tired homies who didn't make it to the end of the party.
"Secret Santa Cruz" is quintessential Lifter Puller, a breathless description of nightlife transgressions where Finn takes the voice of Jenny, at this point a co-ed back on campus recounting her wild summer to sorority sisters, the motormouth rush of images giving an indication of what pretty much all of the band's songs are like: "Twenty-seven lovers in the back half of the summer/I know you think it's way too many/But the X makes me feel sexy and the sex makes me feel empty/The alcohol destroys me/And I did it in a disco with some guy from San Francisco who looked a lot like Roger Daltry/And the night of all that bloodshed I was kissin' on some crackhead who said he knew about a party/He keeps it in his mouth in those crazy chipmunk cheeks/I gave him $50 and he kissed me, spit a little treat between my teeth/I think we're starting to peak/Woke up at some hedonistic rodeo with cowboys kissing cowboys, trading magazines for videos/Yeah, God bless the radio, all that fine fine music without all the messed up musicians/And Dwight's a magician/He gets sensible people makin' terrible decisions."
If there's anything the band cares more about than drugs and late-night escapades, it's rock-and-roll. If you caught the Velvet Underground reference in the previous lyric ("all that fine fine music"), that's standard operating procedure, a wide-ranging obsession manifest in everything, from references to Archie Bell and the Drells (from "The Pirate and the Penpal": "Told her about the tighten up/The way they used to dance down in Houston, Texas") to Pink Floyd. Finn rouses one drifting lust object with the sardonic "Wake up, little floozie" and on "Roaming the Foam" leaps from Guns N' Roses to Salt-N-Pepa, taunting his assembled subjects with "Do you know where you are?/You're in the jungle, baby/You're gonna die!" while the band segues into the keyboard riff from "Push It."
This music might be the soundtrack to your life. It's sure not the soundtrack to mine. But I find it endlessly fascinating as pop-music anthropology: the soundtrack to someone else's life.
-- Chris Herrington
Tribal beats and tape loops are the last sounds you'd expect to hear from a trio of Indianians, but, as the murky cover art suggests, the Post are full of surprises. Backwards, their debut, comes across like a post-apocalyptic merging of organic and artificial musics from both man and machine. While it's obvious that these kids grew up listening to such experimental grandparents as Sonic Youth and This Heat, they add their own vocabulary to the mix. Keyboard collages and samples that could've been lifted from a DJ Spooky 12" or a Stereolab remix add complex layers, resulting in an ethereal, often unsettling, sound.
But don't expect the laidback, atmospheric rhythms of Tortoise or Low from this crew. The hypnotic "Fear of Numbers" revisits Can's "Yoo Doo Right" with its aggressive rant, although the Post cuts their number much shorter than that epic prog-rock chant. "Hum" rings like an outtake from Sonic Youth's '85 landmark Bad Moon Rising, while "Minus" draws on the late John Fahey's minor-chord acoustic guitar technique, melding the notes with soaring vocals and a dense background track. It's a spine-tingling contrast to the first half of the album, which -- from "Waiting" to "Drown" -- unwinds like the perfect soundtrack for a dreary winter afternoon.
-- Andria Lisle
The Post will be performing at Young Avenue Deli on Saturday, February 22nd, with the Coach & Four and the Duration.