There’s a Bad Movie Unraveling at Lightspeed in My Brain

Saw Steve Martin’s Shopgirl last night; it may be as well-done as an older-man vs. younger-woman romance can be done, but the door on this genre shall now please shut forever. Any woman resembling Claire Danes would not be lonely, and I don’t care if it’s LA. I was sliding into hate for the movie (still can’t believe Danes’ character wouldn’t have been mad at Martin’s final statement at the fin) when lo, lo, and behold: the live band toward the end is the ever-frikking Volebeats. The flick already had cred for slotting Mark Kozelek in a very funny role, but this was a mindbender for me. Nice to hope they made some well-deserved money.

Shopgirl was made as a much better movie: Lost in Translation. Although it is fun to suspect that Martin wrote Shopgirl as an experiment to see who would Win the Girl: his young self (Jason Schwartzmann aka Talia Shire Jr.) or his old self (himself).

The song they’re singing is a desert island nugget: “Somewhere In my Heart(mp3),” off 1997’s semi-solid The Sky and the Ocean, the Volebeats’ third (but truly second**) effort.

But let’s step back. Matthew Smith is the name you need to know here, Detroit musician of much material, full time in two bands, neither one a side project, both very good at what they do. His first, Outrageous Cherry, remains Smith’s main songwriting vehicle with a revolving-evolving cast (now a trio, I believe) with the Volebeats being a collaborative effort with Jeff Oakes. Outrageous Cherry: indie pop, bubblegum tendencies. Volebeats: alt country, but with the Beatles Rubber Soul in mind, so pop is never far away.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s duds. The Volebeats’ first record**, 1989’s “Ain’t no Joke,” is, but an unfunny one. 1999’s Solitude might be a total breakdown; there’s little difference between this one and any Outrageous Cherry EP, if filled-out with suspicious instrumentals and a left-turn country rocker (“Shannon”). Solitude’s surf instrumental “Speedboat(mp3)” should never be the only track I like on a Volebeats record. 2000’s Mosquito Spiral is fine enough, but settles for solid=mediocre, with one highlight, the skywriting “Radio Flyer(mp3)”. 2003’s Country Favorites, a covers collection, has some nice moments, especially an Abba cover, but I can’t find that one now. 2005’s Like Her might not be good enough to justify having more than two Volebeats records to your name. I can’t tell yet.

Along with The Sky and the Ocean, 1994’s Up North has a wonderful, New Hampshire farm after a big snowfall kind of vibe, down to its cover. Please enjoy two dynamite tracks, the gorgeous “Miriam (mp3)” and my favorite Volebeats song, after a contentious vote, “The First Time Next Time (mp3).”

Volebeats jump from label to label, Safe House prominent among them, Turquoise Mountain for their last two (an offshoot of OC’s label, Rainbow Quartz).

As for Outrageous Cherry, been a weird, sometimes disagreeable trip, yet not without stellar high lights, my favorite being their all-covers album, 1996’s Stereo Action Rent Party. Not the right place to intro OC, but heck, it’s my blog, and this album sits next to me at the dinner table. Few bands can ably cover Television; OC more than pulls it off with their version of “Days(mp3)” and then does the unthinkable with 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love(mp3)” and makes it listen-able past a minute. Other covers include Scott Walker & the Smiths, but I can’t upload that much stuff without getting canned.

Skip flamingly back to 1994: OC releases its self-titled debut, and it’s swellular, a very cool garage take on pop. On the great Bar None, of course. Great stylistic jumps without being pretentious, from the late seventies AM pop impression “Pale Frail Lovely One (mp3)” to the straight indie pop of “Overwhelmed(mp3)” all the way to the shoegazing wall of guitar on “If Someone Loves You (mp3).”

I can live without 1997’s Nothing’s Gonna Cheer You Up, but I do like the track “Strained (mp3)” for it’s wonderful, messy backing vocals on the chorus.

1999’s Out There in the Dark gets it righted; hard to know what to post. “Corruptible(mp3)” is unadulterated pop, a car-singing gem; “A Bad Movie(mp3)” does a wonderful job of being catchy and frightening while finishing its metaphor, and “Tracy(mp3)” just makes mincemeat of lesser love songs.

I signed off on the psychedelic wanderings of the overlong The Book of Spectral Projections (2001) and the slightly less retarded Supernatural Equinox (2003); Smith and gang got back to pop ditties with 2005’s Our Love Will Change The World. You’ll have to buy that one. Most of these records are available on Emusic if you can’t find them anywhere else.

Total disclaimer: In life, you really only need to pick one, maybe two alt-country faves and stick with them. Volebeats satisfy one of that two for me. So I’m ready fer yer Jayhawks, yer Ryan Adams, yer whatever. In a word: interchangeable.