Yum-Yum Hard to Swallow
Given the way people in high places have frothed over Chris Holmes and the 21-gun salute the press has given Dan Loves Patti, the debut album by his band Yum-Yum, it's shocking to learn that thus far the album looks like a stiff.
The 24-year-old inveterate schmoozer, who also fronts space-rock revivalists Sabalon Glitz and the ambient-leaning Ashtar Command, last fall scored a cushy deal with an Atlantic Records subsidiary that affords him remarkable flexibility. He can pretty much release whatever he wants, when he wants, for whomever he wants. Janet Billig, the former Atlantic vice president who's handled Hole and now manages Kim Deal's Amps and Boss Hog, has called Holmes "the future of pop music," and Holmes, who has referred to Billig as "my fairy godmother," is in the midst of transferring managerial duties from Metro's Joe Shanahan and Todd Kasten to her. But while the hype has generated a thick pile of glowing press clips from major publications, the record has stalled out of the gate.
In defining musical success, expectations are everything. Plenty of critically acclaimed records never approach gold, but Holmes has repeatedly explained that, while most A and R interest was in Sabalon Glitz, he chose Yum-Yum as his first Atlantic project because he thought it would sell better on a major. But since Dan Loves Patti's May 21 release, according to Soundscan, it's sold only slightly more than 2,000 copies. Tower Records on Clark sold nearly 60 copies in the album's first two weeks, but despite what manager Joe Kvidera calls "the largest Yum-Yum display in the western hemisphere," the store has since failed to sell more than a few each week. It's a poor showing, particularly in the artist's hometown. Randy Young, the manager of Dr. Wax in Hyde Park, where Holmes lives, says "the album has sold well--but so has the new single by Galaxy of Mailbox Whores," another neighborhood band.
By contrast, the debut album by Portland's Eric Matthews, who was lumped in with Holmes in a Billboard trend piece on "ork-pop" (orchestrated pop), has sold nearly six times what Yum-Yum's debut has. While it must be noted that Matthews's album was released last fall and that his label, Sub Pop, is a mega-indie with its own efficient, if scaled down, promotion machine, he's achieved that sales figure without ever performing live and without the benefit of a bigwig like Billig to guarantee him high priority.
Holmes's artistic expectations are no less pie-in-the-sky. He told Request, "I get goose bumps listening to the Yum-Yum record." In a bio sent to the press, he proclaims, "I want it to be music for everyone." But a profile in Rolling Stone by Jim DeRogatis wins the gag-me prize: "His usual animated manner growing subdued," Holmes relates the story of one of his dad's coworkers, a cancer patient with two months to live. His telling of how she wanted to get a copy of the album before she died practically elevates Yum-Yum's mopey but florid confections to the level of final rites.
Holmes hosts an Internet program, "Live From Chris's Bedroom: The Yum-Yum Hour," where he's chatted up guests like Jon Langford and Sally Timms of the Mekons in addition to discussing his own band. "Modern technology has allowed me to promote concerts in an intimate setting to millions of people all over the world without any of us leaving our bedrooms. The future is now!" Holmes announced in the press release.
Progress aside, though, it's still old-fashioned radio airplay that sells the quantities the majors like to see, and here again, things are moving slowly. According to Sky Daniels, a chart watcher for the trade magazine Radio & Records, Yum-Yum's first single, "Apiary," has earned light airplay on 23 of the nation's alternative stations. He says the band's label is promoting the record heavily and that influential Q101 program director Bill Gamble is behind it, but that "it's too early to tell whether it'll catch on or die."
Yum-Yum has been playing selected dates with Possum Dixon and Dig (including one this Saturday at Metro), a pair of alternative bands for the kids. But Holmes hasn't got the pop genius of Brian Wilson or Phil Spector, and without it the dense arrangements on the album may not sound like much to the average Dig fan. While it's indeed too early to declare the record a commercial disaster, "the future of pop music" doesn't look too bright.
Ajax Records, the upstart mail-order company and record label, is closing the doors to its three-year-old store following regular business hours on August 24. The mail-order division and the label will continue to operate; the Ajax address remains PO Box 805293, Chicago 60680. "Everyone that works here is tired of the grind," says proprietor Tim Adams. "It worked for a while, but business has been declining since July of last year." Around that time Ajax relocated from its original spot on Chicago Avenue between Damen and Western to one a few blocks east of Ashland, and Adams guesses the move contributed to the slump. The stench emanating from the nearby chicken butcher may have had something to do with it too.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Chris Holmes (captioned "Hype Dreams") by Brad Miller.