Forgive me. This review is going to be unabashedly self-centered.
This is not to draw attention away from The Living Statues, a Milwaukee-based band that recently released its debut EP, Knockin’. Rather, this is an effort to contextualize the band’s music in the greater scope of my life and explain why, for the past two weeks, their debut EP has had a profound effect on my ears, which I’ve had the same pair for 20 years.
I first “got into” music in fifth grade. The first 10 years of my life were defined by a passive enjoyment of popular music. As a seven-year-old, I’d explode with joy whenever a song by Smash Mouth or Fastball found its way onto the airwaves of the pre-set Twin Cities radio stations in my parents’ Dodge Caravan. But I never sought this music outside of the radio stations. I took what was given to me and accepted it.
As I progressed through elementary school, my close friends began to gravitate toward music. Their tastes were primarily influenced by older siblings. Songs by The Clash, Weezer and The Beatles found themselves regularly intermingling with the soundtrack of our lives: a lush medley of skateboard wheels on pavement, Skittles being chased by Sprite Remix and conversations about which fourth-grade girls we thought were cutest.
Then a little movie called “School of Rock” hit theaters. I saw it with a group of friends and was floored by it. It was as if I had only been using 20 percent of my ears’ full capacity up until that point. When Jack Black’s character played the riff to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” my ears were suddenly operating at 100 percent.
New worlds opened. Fifth grade became a blur of Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Metallica. I needed hard rock and I needed it now.
As I transitioned into sixth grade, I moved away from a strictly “classic” rock palette and began exploring the contemporary figures in rock — particularly indie rock —music. Life became about listening to as much new music as possible. It was the first time I had entrenched myself in the ever-shifting current of contemporary music, but I was happy to be taken for a ride. My ears received heavy exposure to The Strokes’ Room on Fire; The Shins’ Chutes too Narrow; Franz Ferdinand’s Franz Ferdinand; The Hives’ Tyrannosaurus Hives; Green Day’s American Idiot; and The White Stripes’ Elephant. The latter album stood out among the rest, as I found Jack and Meg White to be one of the few bands so effortlessly bridging the fresh sounds of the garage rock/post-punk revival with classic rock sensibilities. They rocked, and I was into that kind of thing.
Which brings me to The Living Statues. Had I been exposed to The Living Statues’ Knockin’ EP in 2004, it would have fit in perfectly with the list of albums above. Like The White Stripes, The Living Statues ride just the right line between modern indie-rock tropes and the gritty, sex-drugs-rock-‘n’-roll attitude of the hundreds of artists that attracted me so feverishly to classic rock when I was 10. On the opening title track, the guitars are played with simplicity and urgency. The bassline crawls around as simple drum rhythms heavy on the cymbals give it a beat to circle around. Tommy Shears voice rips across it all in a snarl that recalls a Julian Casablancas or Jack White, singing “And you will likely never find / find your peace of mind ‘round here / Cause I’ve forgotten all my lines / spent them a long time ago on a girl.” These vague emotional appeals could be pulled straight from The Strokes’ Is This It. But it always feels fresh.
“Extra Day” follows with cymbal heavy percussion; unforgiving, distorted guitar; and ruminations on a girl in a photograph. “Foolin’ Around” finds the Statues at its most Strokes-like, as Shears screams, “We got no time on our hands … You’re with me not with your man.” On “Foolin’ Around,” the band tosses in an unapologetic surf-rock guitar solo. The band frequently incorporates solos into their tunes, but unlike many guitar solos these days, they don’t take center stage; they provide the perfect, sleek counterpoint to the driving instrumentation below.
“Time For Me to Go” might be the cheesiest song on the album, but the cutesy melody and lovelorn lyrics make it instantly bar-ready (in the Hold Steady and Free Energy vein). The five-track EP closes with “Not My Fault,” which combines surf-guitar licks with biting lines like “It’s not my fault / That I’m your type girl” and “I could’ve stayed home, had a drink and gotten myself some sleep.” Everything about Living Statues screams swagger. It’s no wonder then that the band lists “Leather, Vinyl, Women, Gin” under its interests on Facebook. This band doesn’t just rock but also appears to live a truly rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
I was born in 1993. I was four years old when Radiohead’s OK Computer was released. I didn’t discover it until I was in high school, 10 years later. My entire approach to music consumption for the past 10 years has been dictated by a need to “catch up.” I hear the importance subscribed to albums like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska or Ride’s Nowhere and feel it’s necessary to hear those albums before I can completely understand the sonic context of The War on Drugs’ recently-released Lost in the Dream.
The Living Statues take me back to a time when this wasn’t how I listened to music. Between the years of 2003 and 2005, my ears were young and excited by anything new. Listening to music wasn’t about aesthetic or cultural context. It was about “this sounds good, right now.” I’m thankful my formative years aligned with this boom in garage rock acts, because when I listen to a band like The Living Statues 10 years later, I’m instantly transported to a time when fractions were difficult and my mouth tasted like jawbreakers for most hours of the day.