The more things change. . .
Louden Up Now (Touch and Go) & Eleni Mandell Afternoon (Zedtone)
Getting old sure can blow sometimes. You feel kinda smart and all, telling the shiny-eyed kid that her favorite new band (a) isn't reinventing music as we know it, (b) isn't even inventing a new hybrid of existing musics, and (c) isn't doing anything that someone else didn't already do better 100 years ago. But rest assured, Ol' Loftytalk: The high won't last. Although lording it over the pretty morons might be one of your few remaining pleasures, it can't compensate for the crow's feet and the cranky mood and the nagging suspicion that your glory days have done passed you by. In fact, when you look back on them, you can probably conjure up a few hazy memories of someone just like the present-day you, some mean old fool trying to harsh your buzz by ragging on your latest fave rave. It didn't work, did it?
Louden Up Now, the second-full length from the New York-based octet !!!, may cause the mean old fools among us to sputter on about Shriekback, Gang of Four, Mission of Burma, Big Audio Dynamite, and the Clash, but no one, thank God, is listening, because the world still sucks and the kids still need to party. !!! (say chk chk chk) is the alpha band of the so-called dancepunk revival, wherein the rockers shake their sickly rumps; the club brats trip out on, like, actual real-life guitars and drums; and everybody feels united in the general rebelliousness. The sound is goofily anarchic, a jumble of scabrous funk, brittle postpunk, and pockmarked disco, a clanging, clattering, sample-studded din that suddenly opens up to reveal disquieting spaces. Front-spazz Nic Offer rants and rails convincingly, as many of his late-'70s/early-'80s predecessors were wont to do, but instead of dissecting the class structure, Offer jabbers obscenities. Instead of instructing the proles in the ways of the ruling class, Offer instructs the president to fellate him (it's a family newspaper, so we paraphrase). See, Heraclitus was right: You never step into the same river twice.
With all due respect to Bo Diddley, sometimes you can judge a book by looking at its cover, and the same goes for CDs. In the photo that adorns Eleni Mandell's fifth and finest CD, Afternoon, the singer is lolling like latter-day Ophelia in unnaturally turquoise water, her skin cocaine-white under the desert sun. Mandell, a longtime resident of the City of Angels, offers up a tribute to her hometown, but it's the LA of Raymond Chandler, not Aaron Spelling, an LA populated by stewbums and sad sacks, not starlets and surfers. Beneath the exhaust fumes and the chlorine and the expensive cologne, there's a faint tang of decay.
Mandell is not a perfect singer -- her voice goes a bit flat during some of the low parts and curdles slightly toward the top of her register -- but what she lacks in technique she makes up for in exuberance. Sometimes she comes off like Exene channeling Connie Francis; other times, she's Peggy Lee doing PJ Harvey doing Patsy Cline. Whether she's yodeling like a bipolar hillbilly or vamping it up like a cabaret queen, Mandell has style to spare, enough style to know when to crank it down a notch, as on the swoony closer, "Yellow Light," which brings to mind a less boring Norah Jones. It's a hodgepodge, all right: Funeral-home organs bump up against plangent pedal-steel guitars; country-soul laments seep into Tex-Mex two-steps; nervy rockers collide with torchy ballads. Another singer might come off as schizophrenic, careening from the dreamy Western swing of "The Sun's Always Shining in Rome" to the propulsive pop-punk of "Dangerous," but, like the city that inspires her, Mandell contains multitudes.
Ren√© Spencer Saller reviews new music for Illinois Times. Reach her at email@example.com.