Tuesday, November 28, 2006

All of me












am in the midst of a sort of ever-ripening honeymoon period as regards the band All. this began several months ago, as you can read here, but i just picked up "Allroy's Revenge"--at Generation Records, which always has copious SSTs in stock and is therefore probably the city's most vital record store--and thus it begins anew.

here's one for you: how many bands can you think of where every member shares equal songwriting duty? not like they write their parts, but they write entire songs, lyrics and everything. one of the reasons the Descendents had such a diverse sound is that everyone in that band--or at least in the final lineup that became the nucleus of All--was writing, and that method continued in All.

it's obvious from listening to All for five seconds that everyone in the band is a virtuoso player. "Check One," an insane 45-second orgasm of prog-thrash from "Allroy's Revenge," demonstrates this handily--i dare anyone to learn how to play this song on any instrument. but for some reason, the writing thing is really what gets me, the idea that everyone was pulling their weight to such an extent in this band and was so devoted to the concept.

in rock, it's guitarists who are usually doing most of the writing, but arguably the strongest writers in All were drummer Bill Stevenson and mid-period vocalist Scott Reynolds, to my ears easily the strongest singer the band ever had. on "Allroy Saves" and "Allroy's Revenge," it's like these two were trying to outdo each other for strongest, hookiest, most ambitious composition and it's just incredible to behold.

i spoke at length about "Saves" below, but it bears re-examination, simply to catalog its evidence of the genius of these two musicians. "Explorador," the final tune is by Stevenson, and it's simply one of the most wrenching rock songs i've ever heard. it's heavy and dark and dynamic and epic, and the lyrics are just devastating. it's basically Stevenson's farewell to his alcoholic dad: "If anyone ever died with a drink in his hand I know you did," he writes, and later, "If your life meant nothing to you, your death means nothing to me." whoa. the song is pretty vitriolic, but there's this amazing conflicted feeling; the refrain is "Dead hero, sleep." if this track doesn't choke you up, i don't get you.

[Editor's note, 5/18/13: The commenter below is absolutely right; "Explorador" is not about Stevenson's dad. I was misinformed at the time of this writing.]

and the amazing thing is that it's Reynolds singing these lyrics, just belting them out like it's his dad he's singing about! this shit is just so deep and raw and real. if you're looking for roots of emo, they're right here.

Reynolds's songs are very different. i almost want to say they're goofy, but they're sooo sophisticated at the same time, just incredible little prog-pop gems. "Crawdad" just has these speedy, twisty melodies that change up so fast, and the rhythms go right along with them. it just demonstrates such an imaginative melodic sense. but it's so catchy that you don't realize how complex it is. and it's one and a half minutes long! pure art.

"Prison," another Reynolds classic, is similar. it sounds like some sort of baroque Broadway number done in the style of SST punk. the melodies are just so eccentric and soaring and complex. hearing this, you realize that this band existed completely outside of the idea of genre; it was simply about rock-solid songwriting, just writing and playing exactly what they wanted to hear. the music advances this idea that rock is limitless and simultaneously debunks the lame notion that complexity and intricacy and ambition don't belong in punk. All is the *most* punk because they went against all that without sacrificing an iota of the energy of their hardcore background.

anyway, for more songwriting marvels, take "Just Living," which i gushed about below. the damn thing is a fucking THREE-WAY collaboration: lyrics by Stevenson and Reynolds, music by (sick, brilliant) guitarist Stephen Egerton. how many punk bands have a collaborative lyric-writing process?!? this shit is just taken so seriously and i love it. bassist Karl Alvarez, whose songs i'm not always wild about, shows up big time with "Educated Idiot," the weird fusion/pop-punk gem i discussed below.

another rad thing is that they do a song written by Milo Aukerman, the singer of the Descendents, whose departure from music had led to the end of phase one of that band and the inception of All. these guys have a whole history of this sort of thing. for example, there's an album credited to TonyALL, which is the "Allroy Saves" lineup, but with former Descendents bassist Tony Lombardo replacing Alvarez, and all the songs they're playing are by Lombardo. like did Black Flag ever reconvene with Chuck Dukowski to do an album of all Chuck's tunes? of course not, because... well, i don't know why, but i give the above example simply to indicate this amazing sense of community and brotherhood and music lifer-ness that the Descendents and All represent and demonstrated constantly. even when they stopped playing with people full-time, they still did songs by them and collaborated with them.

on "Allroy's Revenge" too, sure enough, there are two tracks written by Lombardo. one of these is the awesome instrumental opener, "Gnutheme," a musical relative of the classic Descendents tune "Theme."

overall, the album might be a hair weaker than "Saves," but i'm not ready to say that definitively b/c i haven't spent as much time w/ this one. two tracks in particular are standing out and those are "Scary Sad" and "Box," which are by Stevenson and Reynolds respectively and again handily encapsulate the awesomeness of these two talents.

"Scary Sad" could definitely be a Descendents song and it's definitely one of those ones where Reynolds is really nodding to Milo in his singing. but it's really, really poignant--the chords and melodies are so yearning and sad and autumnal. in general, if Stevenson wasn't writing about his dad, chances are he was writing about a girl he used to date and this is about one who was apparently suicidal. "Every girl I ever hated was just a monster that I created," he writes. Reynolds pushes so hard on the chorus. definitely one for crying into the pages of your high school diary.

"Box" is a beautiful slab of classic Reynolds quirk. hearing this, you feel that he must have been a choirboy or a fucking opera singer or something--the melodies are just so exacting and acrobatic. and the song has so many diverse parts that somehow come together and make sense. this band does in a minute what a '70s prog band would do in 15, especially when it's Reynolds's tune.

anyway, Lennon/McCartney, yadda yadda. i'm talking about fucking Bill Stevenson and Scott Reynolds. these are real American musician-composers needlessly marginalized b/c of genre prejudices. the sophistication and genius endure though; just buy the damn records.

(again, word up to Ben and Tony for the assist re: All.)

here are four rad tracks (scroll past the "Explorador" lyrics, which i felt it was important to include, to find the last one):

"Box" from "Allroy's Revenge" (1989)
(classic Reynolds. who the eff is this guy and where did he learn how to do this?)

"Scary Sad" from "Allroy's Revenge"
(listen to the chorus melody--are you fucking kidding me?!?)


"Explorador"
from "Allroy Saves" (1990)
(lyrics follow. warning: do not read along if prone to compulsive weeping.

EXPLORADOR
Stevenson

Cigarettes
Beyond black shades
Seen him yet?
You'll never see his face

We used to joke about foggy mornings
When no one's around I start talking
I guess you wanted it to be this way
And I can't say I didn't see it coming

If anyone ever died with a drink in his hand I know you did.
If anyone ever died with a smile on his face I guess you did.

You always had the ends to my means.
I'd drive when you had too much drugs.
I guess life doesn't mean that much when you already know it all.

If anyone ever died with a smile on his face I know you did.
If anyone ever died with a drink in his hand I know you did.

But there was alcohol on your last breath,
And I don't need you anymore.
If your life meant nothing to you,
Your death means nothing to me.
Dead hero, sleep.
You were, but now you're not.

There's something romantic about the man who went down with his ship.
And I can tell all my friends about the hero who died at sea.
Everybody humors, everybody laughs when I tell about the things that you've done.
But there's nothing romantic about the empty shoreline where I wait.

If anyone ever died with a smile on his face I know you did.
If anyone ever died with a drink in his hand I know you did.

But there was poison in your frozen blood.
And I don't need you anymore.
If your life meant nothing to you,
Then your death means nothing to me.
Dead hero, sleep.
You were, but now you're not.

I go to the shore and wait.
I see the power of nature.
I understand the nature of power.
But I do not accept this loss of you.
Dead hero, sleep.
You live.)


"Crawdad"
from "Allroy Saves"
(i know, right? how does this minute-and-a-half-long song have so many amazing, eccentric hooks?)

4 comments:

chepo said...

This is the best piece I have ever read about ALL. You nailed the reasons why I have loved this band since I was a teenager. Kudos

Anonymous said...

I haven't yet read the entire article, though I'm looking forward to it. One thing jumped out at me immediately: I'm pretty sure Explorador is about Bill's buddy Pat who died on a fishing boat in the ocean. Correct me if I'm wrong.

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Anonymous said...

Awesome new ALL video with a surprise Danzig appearance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZcPiaWlppM&feature=player_embedded