Dear Mr. Raymer,
You and your sharp little darts have taken over the featured column in Section 3. I don't know all the bands you're talking about or agree with everything you say, but it's clear you're no deadline jockey or poseur. You're a rock 'n' roller, you write well, and you care too much. It's consistently fun and informative to read the section again.
I write all this as preamble, because my true purpose is to lightly chastise or, more euphemistically, to offer an expanded perspective. I was thrilled to see the Fake Fictions in the Reader last week [Sharp Darts, December 29]. And the article was quite good. The background section was filled with little nuggets of personal history I knew nothing about. Your critical assertions, that the Fakes' music is more early British punk than cutesy twee, that their lack of polish is a true strength, that their lyrics bring the young Elvis Costello to mind, seem dead-on. But in the news department, I would have to say you fell a little short.
For those of us firmly entrenched in Camp Friction, the news is this: the Fictions are growing some balls. Though you wouldn't be able to tell from the fruity Nordic sweater Ammerman allowed himself to be photographed in for your publication, the Fictions are now so far past this "twee" thing it's a joke.
The change I've noticed, by attending a series of shows over the past few months, is a heartfelt thrust in the direction of wanton self-confidence and dorkdom. It means that Ammerman is chastising crowds with even less provocation than before, making greater use of his terrible falsetto, and dishing out the bad guitar solos.
It also means that the Fake's new, post-Yang songs are so good it actually hurts to listen to the words. It's not a conscious or dramatic shift, just the realization of what professional douche bag Malcolm Gladwell might call a "tipping point."
This shift is most clearly evidenced in a song Ammerman is introducing at live shows as "Open Parentheses I Cannot Get Any Closed Parentheses Satisfaction." The title itself gives me hives--such hubris!--but it goes way past that. There's a brash, Stoogey guitar intro made of three or four or five notes all snaggled up and repeated again and again, then wormy, ice-cold bass, preposterous lyrics ("We were the kids everyone was afraid of / No one heard language like that before / They could tell from the light in our eyes we were serious / They could tell from the color of our hair we were dangerous"), and not one but two overstated, chanty-chorusy sections, one in which Ammerman and Johnson claim they don't get the respect that they used to, one in which Ammerman screams that he's in love with a feeling, then barks like a dog. Stop barking, Nick--we believe you! You just wrote a perfect song!
The reason that I felt compelled to write you is that readers who rush out and buy Raw Yang in their local record store probably won't be punched in the gut the way they ought to be, or the way they would be if they saw the band on a good night. They might even put the band back on the shelf without realizing their mistake. Yang is a fun album but an imperfect one. It's not rough enough around the edges to sound fully organic, not clean enough to sound consciously or interestingly produced. I love listening to it, but can't help but notice that it dwells in the twilight of not quite there. The song "We Could Destroy You" is a perfect example. When you see this song live it sometimes makes you want to light your pants on fire. On the record it comes off a bit flat. Like eating Chinese food without MSG--you're not sure at first what's missing, but you know
it's not all there. The only reason it all matters is because Ammerman and Johnson's songs are so good to begin with. The best track the Fictions have laid down (not their best song, just their best recording) is actually off their Experimental Cheerleading EP, which I didn't even know existed until poking around their Web page a few weeks ago. When the song, "The First," kicks off, after a couple rote power chords, Ammerman's playing a repetitive Stooges groove again and soon the whole band's screaming the lyrics. The vocal tracks all bleed together, so the Fics sound like a bunch of incomprehensible ambisexual muppets covered in a blanket, and you can't really make out a single word. Then the song ends with an offensive, minute-long organ drone that could've been an outtake track from a kids' record about zombies with green ooze for brains.
If the Fakes apply these strange, bold production techniques to their new, bolder songs there is no telling where it might all end. Probably someplace wonderful. Obviously, this is a subject too close to heart for me to approach in a logical way, and it might appear I'm raving. I hope I have not already alienated you, sitting there reading this in your Reader cubicle, and I fear I've downplayed Sarah Johnson's role in the exciting burst of ability and confidence I feel at recent Fake Fictions shows. I only thought it important to append a bit of news and critical boosterism to your otherwise excellent feature on the Fake Fictions.
Keep up the good work,