A couple years back when Stevan Spacely left the Imperial Pints, there were enough bad feelings swirling around that the Long Island version of the Oasis/Blur feud seemed inevitable. Things seem to have cooled since then, and the Pints put out a second record without Spacely. Meanwhile, Spacely (a Long Island Voice contributor) formed Rocketship Park with his brother Chris and bassist Joseph “JB” Brodtman and has spent the better part of the last year recording upstate with longtime engineer Jaques Cohen, playing some of the same suburban watering holes he did with the Pints. Although Spacely had led both Style and Porcupine 9 in the early ’90s, it had been a little while since he was in the driver’s seat, and I looked forward to RP’s manifestation.
An early Rocketship Park show at the Spot left me ambivalent. Spacely was a bit too, uh, impaired, and was relying too much on Pints-esque bar-band antics. But when I caught them for a second time at the Spot again last month it was a whole different story, much more about the songs, the majority of them crackling with warmth, humor and melody. Bar-band antics were delivered in a more tongue-and-cheek fashion, both critiquing and relishing in the audience’s preconceptions of what a “rock ‘n’ roll band” is. I was thoroughly convinced. Now the challenge for Spacely and the gang is to find their audience, which is somewhere between the Guinness-and-darts crowd of the North Shore bars and the arty indie bands of Avenue A. A while ago I dubbed the Imperial Pints “the thinking man’s drinking band,” and the same goes for Rocketship Park, except that Spacely and the lads have filled up the pretzel bowl with more unexpected goodies than ever before.
Their first single, Two for the Road, is about to be released on Spacely’s own Cloned Human Records and will surely help them grab ears. It features two songs, “Crown Victoria” and “California,” that both serve to establish where Spacely’s songwriting is at. “Crown Victoria” is a splendidly sleazy mix of (if you can imagine) blues, metal and reggae. Hearing Spacely name-checking roads in Holtsville as he goes about making a case for his amorous potency has to bring a smile to your face. When they all take turns soloing during the middle eight, it becomes like some sort of performance-art piece about the consequences of listening to too much WNEW. Spacely, and I repeat only Spacely, could get away with this. And not only get away with it, but actually get it stuck in my head for a couple days.
“California,” on the other hand, is a classic Spacely folk song-breezy, earnest and ultimately heartbreaking. Dissonant melody lines chime over lush acoustic guitars as he contemplates the distance between Blue Point and San Francisco. Stripped of the psychedelic allegory that filled his lyrics during Porcupine 9, “California” is the work of a writer brought back to earth by his own struggles, yet still looking defiantly at some fiery horizon. It has that same sort of sneaky tenderness that the Replacements would frequently display, and moreover it really does sound good while driving.
The single works and, judging by their last live show, there are a fistful of other intriguing tunes to follow. Rocketship Park are still in the process of reckoning with the ghost of rock ‘n’ roll and where they want it to lead them, but at least it’s in good hands. And I’ll drink to that. E-mail Spacely for more info at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Satellite of Love
On the subject of long-awaited releases, Long Island native Tara Emelye is set to release Music Makes Me Think of You, a compilation of singles and unreleased tracks from her former band Mad Planets in association with Florida’s Papercut records. Emelye, who now resides in Brooklyn, released a handful of acclaimed compilation tracks and DIY cassettes while she and her bandmates John Kapp and Erik Robinson attended and/or lived near SUNY Stony Brook. They even represented Long Island at the Northwest Pop Fest a few years back. The album includes tracks from their gloriously tinny four-track recordings, including the charming strummer “Happy Morbid.” Among the unreleased fare is longtime live favorite “Franny,” which deconstructs J.D. Salinger in ways few bands have ever dared to try. Mad Planet’s particular mix of jangling guitar pop and punk energy is captured in full, as is Emelye’s romantic prose. In the end the album promises to be an important document of a band that touched a small audience deeply, as opposed to brushing against a huge one. And that is what independent music is supposed to be about.