BUFU Records, 2016
Review by Kent Manthie
OK, I admit it. The name “Free Pizza” is not something that really stands out and, by their name, do anything more than live up to the campy-sounding name as they branded themselves.
OK, but – if you suspend your sarcasm or your wit or your sour grapes of whatever kind, and just listen to the music contain therein, on FP’s new CD, Berlin, DE. This is a follow-up to their debut album, during which the kids from Boston hit on something that was widely embraced: hip, unencumbered (by corporate A&R automatons who are sent in the studio with some new, “next big thing” to make sure all the ingredients are there to make a big splash in the commercial marketing game that is the music industry), bent on doing their own thing and not following any stale formulae for making a hit pop record.
What Free Pizza has done, then, is an EP, 13 minutes in length, with seven songs on it, averaging about 2 minutes per song (except for “Juliet” and “Patience”, which come in at 1:34 and 1:40, respectively, bringing the 2 x 7 thing down to 13 minutes instead of 14 minutes, if you get my drift.
Anyway, what I wanted to be sure and mention is the fact that there is some damn good music happening here, on Berlin, DE, the name itself a kind of self-aware, play on the title of their debut, Boston, MA. Except, this time, since they spent about a year in Berlin, where they came up with the songs and (sorry, but IDK if they recorded there or not), so they decided to entitle this one Berlin, DE (the “DE”, of course, being an abbreviation for “Deutschland”)
There are pros and cons of putting out a short, 13 minute EP, of course, but one of the silver linings in this short album is that, for those who’ve not heard of Free Pizza, Berlin, DE is a good place to start. For one, there’s no commitment involved – i.e., you don’t have to take an hour or however long a full-length would be (and some can be as long as 74 min. while others are as short as 40 min.) in order to listen to it all in order to take in what they’re offering. Here, with only a 13 minute guide, you can get a relatively quick snapshot of what Free Pizza sound like and, by the time you get to “Slipping”, the final track, you should be able to make up your mind whether you either like these guys or you don’t like them. Of course, there’s always the second, third and other future times when you might play the album and after, say, having listened to it, not obsessively, mind you, but in a way where you don’t play it too much but are also not “neglecting” it to the point where you forget you even had it in a couple months.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple songs that are good barometers for what the rest of the album (in this case, the EP) holds. The opening cut, “Dancing” has this jingly-jangly pop guitar sound to it, making it sound a little like The Jam. But, when we get to the singing, well, they certainly leave The Jam behind, in that Jesus Vio doesn’t sound like Paul Weller. So, just making it clear here that I’m not putting The Jam down, etc. I remain, today, as big a fan of theirs as I’ve been for decades. Just making the point that Vio doesn’t have that softer, English voice of Weller.
Anyway, their closer, “Slipping” is a nice tune. I detect a touch of country in there, somewhere, mixed in with their own sounds.
All in all, I think Berlin, DE is a nice batch of pop songs that have deeper roots than 95% of the junk you hear on commercial radio stations, aka “top 40”, etc. Another parallel I’ve discovered while giving this album a few listens, is McCarthy, an English band from the mid-late 80s. While, you could argue that McCarthy was sort of the parent of Stereolab, in that Tim Gane, Stereolab’s guitarist, was in McCarthy and, at least, on their 2nd album, Laetitia Sadier had joined as a background singer. They had a lot of these 2-4 minute pop-infused songs that were overlaid with dark, dysphoric meditations on the state of things in Britain, mainly, I suppose, since that’s where they were from, but, one could put the same ideals in another context and, a lot of it would still be relevant.
Well – I’d be surprised if anyone remembered McCarthy. But, if you do know what I’m talking about, well, good for you, then.
Getting back to Free Pizza, then, I must say this new EP is a good gap filler, for those jonesing for something new from FP, and also, as I mentioned, a good intro to Free Pizza. Hope you get a chance to hear Berlin, DE. –KM.