(Editor’s note: Kevin and I are in Cleveland. (You know this, but in case you don’t, now you do.) Diamond Jim is smack dab in Chicago, surrounded by things that the world acknowledges have cultural and musical relevance and merit. Cleveland holds the same treasures, but we’re too often typified by tired stereotypes about our city and our region. Kevin feels this slightly less acutely than I do, as he’s originally from Cincinnati (the capital of Kentucky), but I’m fiercely proud of the place that I grew up in. I’ll take the Pepsi challenge against any other city of similar size in terms of Cleveland’s support for and access to the arts: The Cleveland Art Museum, Severance Hall, The Cleveland Orchestra, The Museum of Contemporary Art, the god-damned Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, University Circle, Tremont, Coventry and so on indicate that we’re not some laughable, near forgotten town of broken dreams and abandoned factories. (And our blue collar roots prod us into pugnacity with anyone who’d beg to differ. Slight me, coastal asshole, and I will bite your nose off and spit it in your douchey European beer.) Rather, we’re a place of intelligence and culture. (And an engine for old-school capitalism. Read this Elizabeth Sullivan piece if you think I’m full of shit.) All this to say that we (most notably “I” here) have been neglecting our duty to tell you about things that are local to Cleveland and amazing. We’ve been sitting on this release from Cleveland’s own The Modern Electric for nearly a month. It just kept slipping to the bottom of the pile of records. There is no excuse. In much the same way that television and radio stations are compelled to give back to the community they spring from, we have a responsibility to push Cleveland artists. That said, our critical ethos still applies. If you’re from town and you suck, we’re going to ignore you. However, The Modern Electric deserve heaps of praise, not for their geographical exegesis, but for their musical excellence. They’re good and they’re our neighbors. Our apologies for not writing this post earlier.)
There are a few things that you need to know about The Modern Electric before diving into their debut, self-released, full-length. (Because people keep telling me that, visually, my posts can be a tad monolithic, I’m going to present these things as a bulleted list. It drives me crazy to muddy up the piece with geegaws and gimcracks, but I’m trying to capitulate to those who need prettier formatting. Bear with me.)
- The members of The Modern Electric are young.
Frontman Garrett Komyati is nineteen. For real. (Anybody in the readership who released an album before their twentieth birthday, raise their hand. Nobody? Just checking.) Their youth makes them a little impervious to irony; they have feelings and ideas and they are earnest as hell. Personally, this lack of guile strikes me as a positive; too often our indie rockers are cloaked in a protective covering of authorial distance. In other words, old dudes are a little more beaten down by the world, a little less likely to lay their emotions bare to strangers who are likely to scoff before they empathize. When Komyati sings “you were built to break my heart, I was built to be ripped apart…love is revenge on the human race,” it’s not for effect. It’s because he means it. In the hands of a more wizened artist, this probably wouldn’t work as well. (By the way, the line’s from the top-notch re-imagining of Adam and Eve, “Great Expecatations (Killer by Day, Killer by Night),” a clear highlight on the record. It’s big and melodramatic and I love it. It also might be a samba. I’m not 100% certain.) The Modern Electric pull it off because they ignore the fourth wall; the vocals and lyrics are raw and emotive and right in your ear. The words are not delivered with a sneer, but with heart-rending angst. Maybe Komyati is indeed affecting some sort of pose here; I doubt it, but if that’s the case, dude is both a stellar actor and musician.
- The Modern Electric proudly proclaim that David Bowie is their hero.
The vast majority of the songs on this record are operatic in nature, often bordering on the bombastic. You know that point in “Five Years” when everything kicks in? (It’s right around the three minute mark. And if you don’t haveThe Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars in your itunes, stop reading this website. Seriously. I don’t want you around. Go read some masturbatory, self-congratulatory shit at Pitchfork or whatever. Shoo.) There are times when it seems like The Modern Electric has been listening to those thirty seconds of music and nothing else since they were in the womb. This is decidedly a good thing. As with their earnestness, The Modern Electric’s willingness to be dramatic and (just a bit) over-serious is a nice contrast to some of their peers. This band wants to give the listener big moments that leap out of the speakers and force goose pimples. From the first track, “Where I Belong,” that incorporates a soaring, string filled crescendo in front of Komyati’s piano and strained vocals (more on both later), it’s clear that The Modern Electric are swinging for the sonic fences. This is not a chamber folk record. Like the Starman, this band is constantly on the lookout for a way to electrify.
- The Modern Electric are a crack live act.
Kevin and I were introduced to The Modern Electric when they opened for Cotton Jones a while back. When we got a copy of the record, maybe six weeks later, there were three or four songs that were immediately recognizable from their live set. Keep in mind that I heard the songs once, in a bar, with a few drinks in me, while I was waiting for another band and (at least at the beginning) only paying half attention. (I gave my full attention after the first couple of songs, when it was obvious that the band had talent to spare. Cut me a break.) This is critical for two reasons. First, many of the songs are catchy as hell. I challenge you to get the aforementioned “David Bowie (Save us All)” out of your head once you hear it. After the show, I was humming it for a week. Now that I own the track, I sub-vocalize the lyrics pretty much constantly. (If Mrs. Citizen hears me mumbling “David Bowie is my hero. D-d-d-david. David Bowie” one more time, I’m probably getting divorced.) The Modern Electric write songs that, by and large, stick with you. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, The Modern Electric are young, but they play old. They passed along in an email that they’ve been working on this record for three years. They’ve sorted out what works and what doesn’t; I assume that they’ve done that the old-fashioned way: playing shows and separating the wheat from the chaff. For you, this means that they haven’t included any filler on the record; things that didn’t work are long gone.
- The Modern Electric have a metric ton of musical talent.
Komyati plays the piano with more grace and skill than I’ll ever put into anything. The album’s closer, “London Loves Paris, 1988,” is an unalloyed piano piece that is beautiful, cinematic and forceful. It’s not a rock song at all, but it plays like one. His musicianship is all over the record, pushing the tracks, occasionally, into the transcendent. This was one of the things that was clear from the live act; when he sat down to tickle the ivories, it was time to shut the hell up and listen. The rest of the band isn’t composed of slouches either. The rhythm section of Michael O’Brien on drums and Matthew Puleo Childers on bass is stout and nuanced throughout, providing a solid foundation for the flighty tunes they anchor. Add some guitar heroics to the mix from B.W. Lecky and things are good. Given the chops, the songs are still about Komyati’s pipes, to a certain degree. Dude does not leave a lot on the table, howling, stretching and wailing through the album’s twelve tracks. This is not a collection of songs slapped together by talentless slobs. The Modern Electric know what they’re doing.
Those are the four things you need to know. That wound up being the review. There are several songs that I love on the record, most of which I’ve mentioned above. The rest, you’ll find for yourself. The record is available at itunes, cd baby and, according to the band’s myspace at The Spice Peddler in beautiful and historic downtown Willoughby. If you’re from here, support some local folks doing you proud. If you’re from one of the coasts, sample our artists, then recoil in shame at some of the shit you’ve been pushing on middle America.
“As Sharp as Knives” – The Modern Electric
“Mistakes” – The Modern Electric