Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Christians & Lions :: More Songs for the Dreamsleepers & the Very Awake

It was in the basement of a building on Boylston Street in the mid aughties. Some students from Emerson College set up a show of absurdly different bands. A thrash-core scream-fest metal monstrosity, whose name has been lost to time, finish pillaging the stage and pack up their gear. Fans who were a moment ago throwing themselves into one another and 'slam dancing,' now wait, panting. A group of guys walk in front of the stage. One of them has black wavy hair and Truman Capote glasses and says, "we do things a little differently." He asks everyone to take a seat in a circle around them. The other guys pick up their instruments as he pulls over an upturned trash can with a torn bit of cardboard on it and sets up a tambourine on top of a hat on the floor, testing its sound with his foot. Some confused and sweaty skacore kids stumble out of the back door, but the rest of the crowd sits.

The group plays. Steel brushes chatter against cardboard and tin, the acoustic guitar chasing the rhythm. An upright bass bumbles along, a singing saw is squeezed between knees, and mandolin trickles throughout. Harmonic croonings emerge from the boys that, back then, were calling themselves 'Sharp Teeth.'

It could've been just the fact that those two acts were such a stark juxtaposition, but the audience was entranced, faces awash with surprise. Simple, hollow instruments with thick earthly resonance matched well with prophetic words that were humble, but had an insistence and urgency pervasive throughout. This was nothing wildly inventive; the old world folk attitude came just as people were starting to call that particular sound a 'revival' around 2005. It was just pregnant with poignancy. Amidst the well worn patterns of noise, things could be a little different.

A year later the band had changed up a bit. Now, they were called 'Christians & Lions.' The significance of the name might best be best understood through a little scribbling posted on their myspace for a while, something to the effect of: "we may be Christians and we may be lions, but we ain't Romans!" They released More Songs for the Dreamsleepers & the Very Awake on ECA records in 2006. The core of the group was based around brothers Ben (vocals, acoustic, singing saw) and Sam Potrykus (bass, backing vocals). For this record they were joined by Matt Sisto (guitar, organ, piano), Chris Mara (drums), and Chris Barrett (trumpet). This is all in the past tense, because at the time this is being written, the band isn't active...but that could always change. After a brief break, the band most recently released an EP called Bird's Milk, and then disbanded again.

The lyrical skill and depth of the music is worth noticing. Words have influence from philosophers and theorists, like Hélène Cixous, Louis Althusser and Marshall McLuhan. These kids have read some books and the songs show it with political, religious and social commentary that's never shoved in your face.

'Stay Warm' carries lines like, "we doubt our commitment to God and Country or Job and Comp’ny. Though no one wants to break their arm to reach for what they don’t know" and those "who make 'amen's instead of making amends." The simple glee of the song makes it stand out, sometimes less like singing and more like harmonic shouting.

On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, but still thematically similar is 'Skinnyfists.' It manages to hit a lot of the album's ideas, "I scream, 'We only want to level this city because things are so uneven'" and, "like the psalms between my palms are all I'll ever need to know." Then there's a subtle, well penned semi-anti-war statement/social commentary/personal observation, "I still get sad ripping up ads that the Marines send to friend every kid in my family...because I can afford to." It even has one very romantic and tragic line, "I told her once, 'There's a great line in this song I heard, but I can't tell you unless something really big happens to us,'" before trailing off into haunting wails.

There's a harmony between the Portrykus Bros. spanning the entirety of the trudging and wandering 'Bones.' They sing, "What's the use of a good strong noose when your problem's too much hanging around?' and "said a man who wasn't homeless, 'I'm always just traveling, taking walks around my neighborhood."

Engineer Jack Younger describes the band in a way this writer wishes he thought of, "somehow comfortable, yet a Cadillac someone died in." In the wake of waves upon waves of sorrow laden bands, Christians & Lions was aware of their sonic place, while never forcing the listener to notice it. 'Tender Sparks' has the line "There's all those boys and all those girls who liked me better when I was weakened by loss in all the right spots, but I don't need to slap people in the face."

'Sexton Under Glass' is an interesting song, because before it appeared on the album it was played much, much more uptempo. Yet here, the slower songs begs another to stay alive, becoming seemingly romantic.

The album ends with 'Landing,' a song about a church burning down. It's a suitable end to the album's deconstruction of its themes.

The single from the album was 'Gimmie Diction,' a playful romp, juxtaposed by some lyrical confrontation to it. "It’s like some overbearing tax on praxis; how I’m supposed to feel bad for this when all I’ve sworn to do is hold soul like a cold in haunted bronchial tubes." There was a great little animated video for this song full of skulls and fallen apples that could be found online, however it no longer can.

The reason, is because Warner Music Group is under the impression that it owns all of Christians & Lion's music. The band can't even post certain songs on their myspace. It's tremendously ironic considering how fervently DIY the band members are. Hopefully, the righteous will prevail and they'll get their music back...and hopefully those same fiends won't find this blog...

//Jamaica Plain, MA//
//Released on ECA Records//
//November, 2006//
//Produced by Jack Younger and Christians & Lions//
//Recorded by Jack Younger at Basement 247 in Allston, MA//
//Mastered by Nick Zampiello at New Alliance East in Boston, MA//
//Art and photography by Michael Washburn//

Here's the video for 'Gimmie Diction:'

No comments:

Post a Comment