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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Cry Baby Cry

eclectic reviews and opinions

Cry Baby Cry

Jesus Loves Stacey

(Dischord/Skoda, 2001)

Listening to Cry Baby Cry's back-from-tour set at the Black Cat recently, I found myself ticking off the things that make the band magic, and running out of fingers. There's James' voice, which is a flexible, mutating weapon: he goes from a full-throated scream to a well-pitched falsetto to straight singing and back, sometimes in the space of a few bars. There's Kathy's voice, mostly, though not always, smoother and prettier, and so complementary it almost hurts. The voices are melded in some choice harmony arrangements. There's Drew's bass playing: solid, propulsive, and not cluttered by too many notes. There's Jenn's drumming, which is energetic, dynamic, and creative. We can't leave out guitars, either: James and Kathy have big slabs of tone, a little dirty, a little edgy, mixing spidery single-note-runs, great crashing chords and blissful noise freakouts. More subtle, but definitely there: sometimes when you see an act, it's just four or five people on a stage playing together, sometimes, when the people seem to be thinking with one mind, it's really a band -- more than the sum of the parts, even when the parts sum up nicely by themselves. And that definitely applies here. Then there's just the sheer "WHOMP" of it all -- this is a take-no-prisoners outfit. At least they are when they want to be; because they can also quiet down for delicate, achingly beautiful moments.

Here's a thing, though: I see too many bands, even with great gear and chops, that don't have compelling material. Or that have one or two strong songs, and recycle them. Or fill out the set with a bunch of lesser material. Or stretch out their best songs so they add up to a standard set time, but drag a little. You know the drill.

So the reason I run out of fingers is that I count the really good songs, too, and Cry Baby Cry honestly have a set's worth of ace tunes. It's hard to find a weak link. It's punk, kinda, but it grooves like punk seldom does, and the ghost of classic British invasion -- the Kinks, especially, and, yeah, damnit, the Beatles, is shot all through it. And there's a good helping of something wilder, like the loud feedbacky side of Yo La Tengo.

It's not like I'm pretending to be super objective here: Cry Baby Cry have been one of my favorite local acts, for a while, and this album (and Fugazi's, if you count them as "local") was the local release I was most eagerly anticipating in 2001. I was also a little worried by some of the things I heard about it before I heard it myself: Gee, what if it sucked? But all the virtues of CBC live -- and more -- are happily on display on Jesus Loves Stacey, the band's first full-length release. Okay, it's not quite as in-your-face as their performance, but it's still pretty ballsy. And it's not my favorite local release this year, it's the best record I heard this year, period; it's even better than I hoped it would be.

One big reason for that is that you can finally hear (and read) all the words. Often that can spoil a record for me if I'm not careful, but Cry Baby Cry prove to be unfailingly smart. A song like the title track, sung in the persona of Jesus, could easily be an epic disaster -- even Sting doesn't get that pretentious often. But thanks to sharp couplets like "Oh Stace I also brought you some mace/If you ever need to use it shoot for eyes or the face," it's just epic, not disastrous.

The other major reason is that Cry Baby Cry did basic tracks for this album in a couple of local studios, but finished most of it "at home." That meant that they were able to do a lot of their recording without worrying about the studio bill. If you're audio freak, you might hear some sonic things you don't like as a result of that, and I do, a little, but mostly, what you hear is a creative band that had freedom to experiment with making the recorded arrangements much more expansive than they could be live. That's actually what alarmed me when I heard it, because often that can mean a bunch of goofy crap that detracts from the core of the song, makes it rock less, and/or muddies up the mix -- but CBC's judgment of when and how to add sonic extras proves to be almost as mature as their songwriting talent.

I guess not everyone will love this record the way I do -- it's too varied, and too complex for a lot of people, probably. But if you've sought out pathetic caverns, you're a little special, you're more involved in seeking out new things to hear, more adventurous about what you listen to. And if I still had a job, I'd be sorely tempted to offer a money back guarantee -- if you don't think Jesus Loves Stacey is worth the purchase price, I'd refund your money. Unfortunatley, I got no job and I'm broke, so no deal. But you should check this record out anyway.

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