Sunday, March 1, 2009

Gerbils - Grin

(Spare Me, 1996)

After a poorly-planned and semi-disastrous (well, not for me; I wasn’t the one who got suckerpunched in the face) trip to Boston for a concert, it’s swell to return home and find New York City, which was balmy on Friday, in the middle of having a foot of snow dumped atop it. Tomorrow’s commute will be ugly, but luckily I was completely underdressed while visiting the nippy north, and I’m hoping that the cold I caught will soon be my ticket to sick-day paradise. Not only do I have stacks of DVDs and books that need my time, I should, primarily, be doing a better job of making my way through all the bizarre Richard Harris LPs that have been clogging my mailbox – a daunting task that requires at least a full day. Wrapping one’s head around the Gerbils, however, requires far less brainpower than the dissection of those brain-melting Harris epics, so tonight I’ll turn my busride-deadened attention to this 7” before worrying about tomorrow’s work.

The Gerbils slot easily into the larger Elephant 6 universe, cranking out the charged fuzzpop that the Apples in Stereo and Elf Power were also playing at the time; there are definitely no musical surprises here for anyone who’s heard any early E6 records. Nothing so wrong with that, of course, but unfortunately, “Grin” features an annoying carnival-barker backing vocal that does its best to ruin what would otherwise be some above-average, woozy, bedroom twee: you know that wacky vocal track that echoes Ringo in the final verse of “Yellow Submarine”? Imagine that, much louder, running through the entire song, and you’ve got a good idea of what derails “Grin.” On the other side, the energetic “Crayon Box” begs for an Elf Power comparison, though it does gain distinction for including the rather unfathomable line, “You know that Portastatic is still my favorite band.” Really?! Hear it and believe it. The guy bold enough to give voice to such an admission, Scott Spillane, also played horns for Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel over the years, and while those bands were both miles ahead of the Gerbils in terms of ambition and execution, Spillane’s group – on the two singles I own, at least – was a charmingly modest, below-the-radar pop project that oughta make genre freaks pretty happy. Consider ’em the, I dunno, light-hitting, slick-fielding utility man on the Elephant 6 baseball team… never flashy, sometimes frustrating, but generally solid.

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