Digging the Jim Yoshi Pile-Up because they remind me a little of American Music Club probably isn't the best reason for liking a band. All the same, there it is. Singer/guitarist Paul Gonzenba has some Mark Eitzel in his voice, and the rest of the band drummer Ryan Craven, guitarist Noah Blumberg and bassist Frankie Koeller often mix melody and strange, intense sonics the way AMC did on what may be my favorite AMC album, Mercury.
This Oakland, California band formed in 1997, released a debut album, It's
Winter Here, in 2001, and followed it with Homemade Drugs in 2002.
haven't heard the group's earlier albums, but Picks Us Apart is a mature,
nuanced work that veers from noisy rock (some of "Mind of God," "Revulsion")
to gentle ballads ("Hall Clock," "Heart My Home"). The songwriting is strong,
and much attention has been paid to the arrangements and production. Yet nothing
here sounds forced. Picks Us Apart is one of those albums you play again
and again, from start to finish.
That said, the standout here is "Jailhouse Rock" (a new song, not the Elvis oldie), a mesmerizing indie rocker with subtle hooks throughout (pay attention to the way the bass and drums stop and start, holding back just long enough to make that hesitation itself become a hook). The couple of repeated notes that one of the guitars plays for an intro, set against the bass and drums, hit the "ecstasy" part of my brain the way parts of Big Star and Spoon songs do. You just have to hear the way Gonzenba sings "And I, I was the entertainer, I was the topic of conversation…." Words never do justice to music, and that's no cop-out just the truth. Later in the song, the prison guards sing to the song's narrator: "The truth sounds like a lie and you won't know when you die that you've been cheated."
Both Gonzenba and Blumberg are smart guitarists who understand that, more often than not, less is more. The notes they play are the right ones, and their use of repetition creates the hypnotic quality that I referred to in connection with "Jailhouse Rock."
Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that it's still possible for a four-piece
band two guitars, bass and drums to make music that doesn't sound like a tired retread of the past. The Jim Yoshi Pile-Up may bring to mind the American Music Club, but only as a reference point, a way into their sound. And once you're in, you'll end up liking Picks Us Apart simply because it's good.