Veteran indie-rocker Frank Lenz is bumming. Downright down, even as
evidenced by the title of his third solo album, Vilelenz and Thieves.
when Lenz gets to bumming, he stops the drumming (he has played with a slew
of indie bands, perhaps most notably Pedro the Lion), picks up his
acoustic guitar and sampler, and makes him some moody.
But where most masters of misery do that blues thing where you try to laugh
to keep from crying, the degree of damaged self-loathing that Lenz expresses
through his lyrics which find him labeling himself a "fucking poseur,"
a "man with no identity" who, faced with the need to get up and get going
"just wants to get high" makes for highly uneasy listening. And it's not
just the vile Lenz who's driving himself to Nowheresville; indeed, his
friends have become thieves, as "everybody runs when trouble comes" amid
references to some nastiness directed his way on an Internet message board,
a "place" more often serving as a haven than a site of hazing for indie
artists. If a track more desperately unsettling than "Bad Art," all
belltones and fragile, subdued moaning, gets released this year, then I owe
both you and Lenz a Coke.
Vilelenz and Thieves is an album about love and loss minus the love,
and scary place to dwell in despite the artist's attempts to occasionally
jolly things up, as on the instrumental opener, a mellotron-and-flute-fueled
piece, and the unhinged guitar sounds displayed on "Libertution." Hints of
early Built to Spill (circa There's Nothing Wrong With Love) also
the engaging, low-wattage "I've Got Other Things to Do" and a few other
tracks that briefly rise above the gloom. Lenz's versatile-yet-underwhelming
voice makes for some difficult listening, especially when he goes into
confessional whisper mode.
While this self-produced recording is technically sound and packed with some
beautifully sad bits, it's hard not to think of Vilelenz and Thieves
rough draft for a much better album that could've been made with a
sympathetic yet disciplined producer who might've guided Lenz and schooled
him that less can be more, that his lyrics need more poetry and less
prose, and that he should try to take a step back and examine the pain he's
instead of simply inflicting it on the rest of us. Absent such a figure,
those of us who listen to this album must endure Lenz's numbness, which is
something better heard about than actually heard.