Something I’ve been lacking has been the home towners. The Bay Area is vastly underrepresented on this website, which is completely bogus seeing how 1) the headquarters is here in SF, 2) the majority of us grew up in the Bay Area music scene and 3) we all still live here. Aside from Finley (Seattle), Ryan Gabos and Nate (Pittsburgh, PA), the San Francisco’s rep on this site goes as far as the venues we do live interviews at and not much more. So, when Warren Teagarden dropped this one in my inbox I was elated.
Warren Teagarden and The Good Grief (WTaTGG) is a self-described punk act wrapped in indie rock inside of a singer/songwriter. The music itself ranges from the strange and absurd to the reflective and intricate. There is a vast array of sounds coming from this self-titled album that a brief synopsis can’t really do Warren and the guys justice so we’ll jump into it after the samples.
Listen to “Urethane Mile” below!
This album resonates many different flavors and profiles from previous bands and artists. Initially there is that B-52‘s “Rock Lobster” kind of vibe, which sort of plays into the whole indie surf revival that’s been happening over the past two years. There are slight remnants of At The Drive-In a la Acrobatic Tenament sprinkled throughout, especially on the track “Quite the Tiger!” (my personal favorite). The band obviously doesn’t front punk like post-hardcore punk but rather a Talking Heads or The Clash mid 80s type punk. There is some rude boy attitude laced throughout, including a skank instrumental “Country Livin’”. Not to take away from the DIY attitude of this album, the last four or so tracks tone the punk down and turn up the slowcore vibe, at times reminiscent of early Pedro the Lion.
Something WTaTGG does well is the minimal style and filling out each song. Lately, many bands have sent me what would normally be considered minimal or lo-fi, but that usually wasn’t by design… rather because of amateur production quality. There is no debate that the production quality of this album is lacking, but the raw playing power of this band does a lot to carry their sound through from beginning to end. Usually, a track won’t exceed a single tracking of vocals with single tracks for all the instruments. No overlays or doubling of anything here. This could be due to cash-out-of-pocket expenses were too much for everything they wanted to do in the studio… or because they were all jacked up in their garage or living room when they were recording this on Audacity or something and wanted to press the album ASAP. Whatever the reasoning, the quality of the record seems like the Best Coast EP and 7″s prior Crazy For You.
Something that also works to their advantage is that 90% of it is care-free and supposed to be silly and fun. The majority of the lyrics are about relatively mundane topics (i.e. “Typewriter” being about trying to find a typewriter) that seem to try to expose the instrumentation as more of a vehicle of the dance pit than to be reflected on deeply. That cognition allows for some cushion when noticing the somewhat absent production quality and lack of multitracking. Much more to WTaTGG, the quality might be because they are recording analog… but that’s just a guess and a hopeful assumption. If so, more to you guys.
I would rather not admit punk is dead, but I wouldn’t be outside of the box when I say this kind of punk is dead. Each song offers something to chew on but there are only a handful that hold me the entire length. Many songs seem to have parts that are either unnecessary or too repetitive. But… I would be lying if I didn’t think a lot of this type of punk holds unnecessary or repetitive ideologies. During lulls on the album, I find myself itching to hit the next button. And when I find myself hovering over it, some intense burst of amazing comes through that holds me long enough to stay on the once-unwanted track.
The lead guitar riffs that lay over many of the tracks at first were really cute (“Urethan Mile”, the video above, is a good example), however on second and third listen they became fairly boring or unnecessary. The lead guitar is relatively simple in melody, and not in an interesting way. Rather, it’s sort of like excessive frosting on something already too sweet. The music itself already is this simple, no need to add something just as simple for people to overlook. Either more interesting riffs, maybe effect pedals, or a completely different instrument altogether might freshen that lead up. Your “sound” is one thing but it shouldn’t impede the quality you want to attain.
With all of these cons, it really boils down to better production. A third party away from this band could have tightened up many of these songs. Granted, the album duration may be cut in half due to the amount of lulls throughout, but 15 minutes of great music would be much more to chew on than 30 minutes of mediocre or bland music (just ask matt pond PA). I would assume that if WTaTGG get into the studio for an LP again, they’ll bring along a friend from a different band to try to tighten some odds and ends up. In my opinion, a handful of these songs fit a completely different theme (“Quite the Tiger!”, “Run Away”, “Best Thing”, “On the Walk to Crissy Field”) and would work either as a completely different project or a very different EP of some sort.
On a more subjective note, “Flesh, Blood, and Bone” was just completely confusing. I like the idea, sort of like an inspired version of “I’m So Tired” by Fugazi. The problem here is that “I’m So Tired” wasn’t awkwardly strange as a part of Instrument Soundtrack since this album was a descent from the Fugazi stylings heard on other more popular albums such as 13 Songs. “Flesh, Blood, and Bone” seems to come out of the left field of a completely different stadium. It is a definite descent from what the brash, raw, punkish underpinnings offer — but even more so, it is a definite descent from even the slower “singer/songwriter” labeled songs. Because of this, I feel like the direction of this band is much confused. If this is really a band, and not the musical scribbling of Warren Teagarden himself, I believe they would be most influenced by not just the power of a studio producer but the power of concept. The creativity is wonderful, but streamlining it towards an ultimate goal might be much more interesting than splattering this talent willy-nilly.
I went to try to find “I’m So Tired” and ended up coming back to 13 Chambers by Wugazi. This mash up actually provides a fairly important commentary to the likes of Warren Teagarden and The Good Grief. When I first started to blast Wugazi, I was sort of sad that only a handful of Fugazi hits were represented on this mash up, whereas a good amount of Wu-Tang Clan‘s hits were all over the album. On my reflection of this, there was almost an infinite possibilities to attack a Fu + Wu mash up. You could have been Wu heavy or Fu heavy. Then, you could have been representing the popular tracks from either band. Then, you would have to find the creative way to mash selected songs together without tampering with the tracks so much that they become indistinguishable. And then all of these other possibilities became apparent when thinking about how I would do it. What ended up happening is that Wugazi did it right when prioritizing The Wu as the lyrical bed and Fugazi as the instrumental bed. Select only a handful of very strong and seemingly classic beds from Fugazi and properly assess the vocal melodies from Wu-Tang Clan to match those beds. Other combinations could work, but not as well.
With that analogy, Warren Teagarden and The Good Grief’s self-titled release is one of the many possibilities this band could exist as. In some iteration, they exist as the best this combination of minds and creativity will allow… but this time is not this album. Unless their fan base is already galvanized as a crazy party anytime they play, I wouldn’t expect these guys to be selling out Bottom of the Hill anytime soon. If they do want to sell out The Hill soon, they might have to rethink what the band is truly all about. Either way, there is a lot of potential to be had but also a lot of work to be done. Hope to see the next iteration of these guys soon.