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Why There's No Money in My 401(k)
A Diary of Obsessive Materialism (Vol. 4)
 
 
by Kyle Olson

In an effort to fulfill some bizarre need in my life, I purchase a lot of CDs, both old and new. They are obsessively cataloged and organized and poured over track by track (Seriously, it's obsessive. It involves post-it notes and code and excel spreadsheets). It is truly a labor of love (and an unhealthy psychological imperative). But, since I am consuming so much music, I thought I could use this constant influx for the powers of good. Should I come across anything worth sharing (either a new release or an old favorite), I will share them with you. So you'll love me.

Chain and the Gang — Down with Liberty...Up with Chains! (K)
Somewhere, in a dark basement laboratory, a team of scientists is doing unspeakable experiments with the DNA of Calvin Johnson, Lou Reed, and a team of fiery Baptist preachers. This experiment, an affront to God himself, has boiled down Calvin Johnson's DIY lefty leanings and basement stomp, Lou Reed's legendary cool and perfect backroom rock and roll, and mixed them all up with the suit-wearing, sweaty energy of Baptist churches in the south. The product of these sinful scientific dealings is the debut album by Chain and the Gang, the newest project of ex-Nation of Ulysses/Make Up frontman Ian Svenonius, who has taken a break from hosting internet talk-shows and writing books to front another amazing band.

The "premise" of the project stems from the observation that "the spread of liberty has been detrimental to the world. Everywhere liberty goes, it leaves a path of destruction. Fast food, bad architecture, militarism, rampant greed, environmental destruction, imperial conquest, class struggle; these phenomena, when combined, seem to be synonymous with 'Liberty.'" Fortunately, these politics are delivered with a tongue-in-cheek snarkiness and revival tent faux-gospel so the message, while not exactly buried, is rather snuggled up comfortably under several quilts of "gettin' down." Those looking for screeds will be sorely disappointed, but anyone familiar with Svenonius's most recent work, including a Little Red Book-resembling tome of satirical essays on rock-and-roll-as-ethos will expect the joke. Songs like "Reparations," a stone-cold gospel-rock jam about wanting restitution from bad radio and failed institutions, is the perfect example of the Chain and the Gang mission: soft politics/indie defiance that gets sidelined by the need to get down.

The album may receive criticism (perhaps justifiably) for its over-simplified arrangements and grade-school rhymes. In its defense, it's on K Records, the label started by Beat Happening. What did these critics expect? Goofy couplets are all over this album, and at times they do threaten to derail the enjoyment of Down with Liberty. But as it stands now, these lyrics operate as a litmus test for the listener: are you going to let innocent flaws get in the way of an album as fun as this? If ham-fisted rhymes are going to distract you from the business of backroom boogie, this is not the album for you. As it stands, Down with Liberty is a testament to relaxed good-times, unconcerned with what other people think. Like Beat Happening, Chain and the Gang are too cool for that. They, like millions of sorority girls before them, are content to dance like nobody's watching.

And sandwiched in the middle of the album, "Interview with the Chain Gang" stands as the band's anthem. Presented as a series of phone-interviews, Svenonius slings out several verses of rock and roll rhetoric over a garage-rock James Brown guitar riff until he finally arrives at what could be one of my favorite lyrics of all time: "What's my stance? I like to dance/And smash things up when I get a chance." In that line, Svenonius defines the band: good times comes first, and if someone gets the half-serious references to the progressive politics beneath the jam, all the better." Down with Liberty...Up with Chains! is a collection of ramshackle rock that's as inviting and personal as any singer-songwriter disk released this year. But rather than hammering you over the head with its message, Chain and the Gang are content to simply let you come party with them, knowing you'll get the joke.

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