Underwater Peoples, 2013
Review by Kent Manthie
For those fans of New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus, here is a new release by the former guitarist, Andrew Cedermark, Home Life. Where Titus Andronicus would jam as many lyrics into their songs in a dizzying array, Cedermark keeps the vocal on the down-low and muddies them underneath swirling guitars and other sounds.
On Home Life, Cedermark sings songs about isolation, loneliness, alienation and even the title of the album suggests a newfound domesticity that is preferred to the hustle and bustle of street life.
Listening to this album, one just can’t help but think of Pavement and/or Steven Malkmus, to whom Andrew is a sound-alike. The first track, “On Me” is a deconstructed version of Bill Withers’s staple, “Lean On Me”, that’s been covered and covered – so many times it’s almost trite. Yet, this, completely new take on the original is not what I’d call a “cover”. No, Andrew has taken it apart, discarded a lot of extraneous pieces and then put the remainder back together and then reformatted it. At first, you don’t really catch on, but midway in, you can tell he’s at least making references to “Lean On Me”. When it first starts out, Cedermark has written his own words to update the song as well as put his own stamp on. By mid-song you start hearing the familiar “We all need somebody to lean on…” and, honestly, the rest of it gets lost under a swirl of grating, fiery guitar licks. It goes from a clean, electric sound in the beginning to a distorted mass of fire at the end, while he repeats the line “We all need somebody to lean on/So…(dah dah dah dah dah…) – sorry, I honestly couldn’t make out the rest and I don’t have a lyric sheet, but the main reason is because that is about where the guitar(s) get distorted and mix in with the singing, eventually, after repeating the stanza over and over again, burning out in an implosion of sonic sludge – which is good, mind you.
But, as I said, you just can’t get that Steven Malkmus comparison out of your head, since Andrew’s voice sounds a lot like the ex-Pavement frontman. Yet there is no obvious copying going on – that’s just a matter of happenstance and isn’t a big deal.
Other interesting cuts on Home Life include the twin songs, “Canis Major” and “Canis Minor”, the latter includes one of the hallmark’s of Cedermark’s One thing Cedermark does a lot is to blend his singing with his guitar playing, sometimes competing with his vocals – playing distorted, spinning guitar notes that match his vocal notes, with the result that the singing gets mixed in, but not completely buried by, the guitar. “Canis Minor” doesn’t really “end” in the traditional way, but rather yields to the next tune “Heap of Trash” by just slipping right into it without one hardly noticing – at least at first.
Since his departure from the punk upstarts, Titus Andronicus, Andrew first released a slew of 7” singles, getting himself into a new footing, a different niche. Then, in 2010 he released his debut solo CD, Moon Deluxe, on which he leaned more heavily on a folksier sound, yet one can hear the hallmark layered guitar sound and purposeful repetition mixed in, which made for a great departure from Titus Andronicus. Now he is back with the follow-up, Home Life, a more mature record on which one can hear his sense of confidence building up even more. At 43 minutes, the album is neither too long or too short.
I remember back when CDs had come to totally replace the vinyl LP, a medium which limited the musical output to around 45 minutes. That was pretty convenient for when one wanted to borrow a friend’s album and, using your stereo – turntable, equalizer & tape deck, put a Maxell II-S in the slot and taped the album, which, most of the time, would fit, completely, on one side of a 90 minute blank tape (45 minutes on each side).
Then, strangely (or, really, not so strangely), after recording albums for release on CD started happening, a new phenomenon came about: throughout much of the 1990s (and starting in the late 1980s), a lot of albums were coming out by bands who would take advantage of the new, longer format of the digital CD, on which they could make records that had as much music that would fit on to a 74 minute CD. So, for a while, with some exceptions, of course, there was a big push (especially by the corporate music industry) to get as much out per CD as possible. This resulted in a lot of discs coming out that would have, normally, 5-10 good tunes and then, since there was room, they’d keep going and put 4-6 more songs on there. There were some bands/artists who could fill up a whole CD with great music and not sound like they were just adding filler, but a big chunk of the CDs coming out were chock-a-block with just too much stuff on them. I think many have gotten the hint that more is not always better, since nowadays, most CDs I’ve heard, don’t necessarily go on forever, just because they can. It sounds like the emphasis on quality, not quantity, has come back into fashion, even for your average corporate junk, but it’s definitely the norm now for indie music, for the average CD length to run anywhere from 40 minutes to 60 minutes. It’s like, they play their best and cut the fluff, just the way bands did it when vinyl was the thing. I’d rather hear 44 minutes of high quality stuff anyday, than 6-8 good tunes plus another 5-6 songs of filler to use all the space available.
Getting back to Andrew Cedermark’s Home Life, this album definitely falls into the “less is more” category: at 43 minutes it’s the perfect length for what he’s got to say. Since leaving Titus Andronicus and going his own, new direction, Cedermark is wonderfully unique and his mix of mellow, laid-back singing, combined with the raw, swirling distortion of guitars screaming throughout is a great juxtaposition of sound and energy. Here’s hoping there’s more where that came from! -KM