Optimism ?!?

optimismWell, this week I’m confused about something else, of course, which is this band International Pen Pal, who play this Saturday at the Prodigal Sun with those local darlings of the bog, the Ticks.

Have you seen the Ticks? The Ticks -Julia Randall, Emma Levy, and Sue LaVallee -are an extremely personable girl rock combo (if you don’t count perpetual male drummer Sam Wood, who just got off probation and plays like it, and by that I mean, LOUD.) (Not unlike his dad, Steve “Woo-Woo” Wood, known far and wide as perhaps the hardest rocking Cape Codder in history.) Anyway, with this one exception, the Ticks are way cute, not to mention colorfully and cunningly clothed and coifed in seething, twisted, poolside agreeability. And I really shouldn’t be writing about any of these people because I know them all too well.

Which brings me back to International Pen Pal, who I’ve only met once or twice, and thus can at least consider trashing. Or at least could, if the lead singer wasn’t a friend of my nephew’s. I will say that the four-song EP I heard didn’t really get me much until the last song, an uncredited home tape called “Barbara Spinelli”, which I thought was fairly hilarious and enjoyed quite a bit. Dammit, now I have to listen to the whole thing all over again.

I might not bother, except they’re also from Providence, home of Lightning Bolt and the Eyesores (who are also friends of my nephew’s.) Some of these bands are very original and playful, perhaps even innovative, and if the whole scene somehow takes off, it may someday come to be known as the “Providence Sound”, or, better yet, the “Friends of Kelp’s Nephew Dudley’s Sound.”

OK, so, what the hell, I’ll listen again.

Hmmm. Well, it does sound better than the first time. First song’s kind of interesting -OK changes, some nice lines -not terrible, even! Second song still bothers me: there’s a ferociously recorded, not particularly well-played bell part that pretty much sabotages the rest, and the bits which you do happen to catch don’t sound too zesty. But I still like that last one quite well, and -surprise! -#3 turns out to be rather lovely and somewhat rockin’ as well. Hmmm.

Singer Pat Healey is of the glamorous Eben Portnoy School of Righteous Vocalizing; he has the indie sound, as if he were Jeff Tweedy’s raspless, geeky little brother. (It’s worth pointing out that Wilco’s leader in turn sounds like Paul Westerberg’s geeky little brother -where will it end?) Healey’s lyrics are best when he goes out on a limb, which he does frequently; unfortunately, they’re also worst then, too.

The main thing is, they’re at least using their heads and trying to do things differently, make something new. We’re finally getting beyond the point where musicians could realistically do it for the money, so weeding out those guys should work out to everyone’s advantage. There’s even the possibility we might start to see less slick, imitative, posturing crap, and things might actually get interesting again.

In fact, they already have.

In my opinion, music is actually getting better -it’s a miracle! I know it’s more my job to tell you how much more dreary and tiresome everything is now than it used to be, but I am forced to admit there’s actually signs of hope. I mean, I can’t remember ever writing at the end of a year that things actually improved; but there it is, shameful, but arguably true!

This may partly be the effect of the damn internet, and the playing field evening out -which surprised us all by totally sucking at first, but now is providing some actual perks, increased diversity being one. People have to work harder to find the good stuff because there’s so much garbage to sift through, but it’s all free, and you don’t even have to leave to leave your house to get it (although you still might have to to understand it.) Younger musicians are more and more all over the map stylistically, and they seem increasingly far-flung; yay!

Which means you end up with strange new bands like the Eyesores, who provide a bracing alternative take on the moody tango music of Astor Piazzolla. Certainly, their instrumentation, which includes viola, accordion, string bass, radio, and, at a recent live show, even a little french horn, is part of the fun; but the arrangements and vocals also manage to surprise consistently.

Again, they’re young, and some of the edges are a bit rough -for instance, they usually seem to be better off without their drummer, who’s not terrible, but you don’t miss him when he’s not there, and sometimes you wish you were missing him when he is. Still, they’re already breaking some intriguing new ground, and I recommend their latest release, “Bent at the Waist” (on the Handsome label, probably most reachable through www.handsomerecords.com), to anyone looking for a break from the same old same old.

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