US - Nebraska - Full Moon 75 - 11/20/02
Sometimes I find it depressing that there are scores of bands out there that make remarkable
music but are unlikely to ever get themselves heard by significant numbers of people. And sometimes
I relish the thought that the magic that is reaching my ears will only ever bewitch a lucky few.
I would never have discovered Lullaby For The Working Class, for example, if it wasn't for a
friend of mine. He seemed to think that I fell into the category of music fan that tended to like
music made with guitars, and despite initially bristling at the suggestion that I was exclusive
in my musical palette, I had to agree - on the whole I dig guitar music more than any other kind.
Lullaby For The Working Class, over the course of three superb albums, used pretty much every
stringed instrument that you can get your hands on to weave a kind of angst-ridden dimestore
country folk, whose clumsy propulsion and awkward poetry are the stuff of skewed genius. Indeed,
I wholeheartedly recommend their second album I Never Even Asked For Light to anyone with
a pair of ears and a heart.
Sadly Lullaby For The Working Class are no more. Welcome Mayday, who are pretty much the same
band, with the core members of Ted Stevens and Mike and A.J. Mogis in place and making some damn
fine music, as ever. The Mayday sound is more straightforward and rocky than Lullaby, but has
some moments that rival their parent band.
One of these highlights is opener "Cinquefoils", riding confidently in on an electro loop
before cantering away with banjos and Ted Stevens impassioned vocal. The mix is much thicker with
guitar distortion than Lullaby, filled out with midtones rather than left raw and spacious with
acoustic guitar and mandolin. In fact, the whole sound is a lot more basic, but thankfully Stevens'
songwriting is as keen as ever, turning essentially simple rock songs into epics of emotional
The theme that tended to run through Lullaby's best work was of life as a constant struggle
against the elements, of braving the storm and making the best of all the shit that comes your
way. This theme continues through "Bad Blood", the title of the album itself suggesting that we
carry the poison of our predecessors, always fighting a losing battle against dark forces, whether
they are in the night sky or found sitting in a bar drinking away the blues.
The most memorable single image comes before the devastating final suite "Tempe/Temporary/Extempore/Tempo".
Over a spare, plucked acoustic guitar and an ominous drone the line 'The
pilot is tapping the gauges' is repeated over and over, creating an atmosphere of tremendous
foreboding. This mastery of atmosphere is found throughout "Bad Blood", whether of imploring a
lover to forgive and return to your arms ("Come Home"), of returning to your home town to find that
those you love have moved on ("Confession"), or of looking for answers in the darkness and finding
nothing ("Captain"). Even the appearance of Bright Eyes' Coner Oberst and his hideously overwrought
vocal style cannot ruin the edgy drive of the Latino-tinged "Confession".
Although perhaps a little too bombastic for some indie ears, and occasionally wince-inducing in
the lyrics department, this is a very good record, with many sublime moments. You can forgive the
minor transgressions of taste on account of the fact that the whole hangs together very well, and
takes the patient listener to some beautiful places over the course of an hour, places that we
know and love but have never seen rendered in this light before.
Copyright © 2002 Tim Clarke