Lifter Puller’s Fiestas + Fiascos probably designates as “emo” for sounding simultaneously bulky and flouncy. (“Emo” is short for “emology”: “The study of music that’s simultaneously bulky and flouncy.”) The vocals come across as spiels overheard in bars: come-ons, scams, scores, threats, boasts. The singing isn’t singing so much as it’s ranting (and declaiming, boasting, enticing). And the ranting has a barroom feel of struggling upward: up through the noise and up through the spieler’s own emotions, like it’s struggling to be heard and struggling to be believed. The milieu reminds me of the Springsteen of The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle—except that Bruce had a literariness that put the stories off in the distance, whereas this guy, singer Craig Finn, pushes his spiels right against your nose.
Taylor M. Clark at www.pitchforkmedia.com says, “You know that guy nobody likes who absolutely has to chatter for hours about the wild, crazy-ass party he went to the other night? The very same guy who was always totally getting checked out by this hot chick but he couldn’t talk to her because they totally had to bounce right away to go to this other intense party? He’s the lead singer in Lifter Puller now.” Clark finds the whole thing repellent, but I really like it, and I’d say simply that the words succeed in pretending not to be poetry, hence their immediacy. The music is grindingly melodic guitar, heave-up-the-Hefty-bag bass, etc. My favorite song here has a ’60s organ—a Paul Revere style of riff—and in the din you hear Craig raving away: “I want everybody who’s been eyeing my girl to slowly close their eyes and think about what you’ve got, compare it to what I’ve got, and ask yourself what do you think my girl wants.”
My friend Charles says that Lifter Puller remind him more of the “verbose babbling of the Fall” than of Springsteen, though (he also says) it’s not as if the Fall babblement and the early Springsteen babblement have nothing in common. I wasn’t initially referring to the sounds of Craig’s/Bruce’s voices but to subject matter: local boys trying to be someone who cou-ou-ounts in the hick-city night. But I do hear a similar sound in Springsteen and Lifter Puller: Both are passionately oververbose, as opposed to the Fall’s Mark E. Smith, who’s pugnaciously oververbose. Anyway, both Bruce and Craig write dialogue songs. Craig: “We mixed the Ripple and the champagne, and then things got kinda strange. She said, ‘My name is Juanita, but the guys call me L.L. Cool J, ’cause I’ve been here for years. And you can’t call it a comeback if you never even been away, and I ain’t ever been no place.” That reminds me of Springsteen: the conversation, the young woman with the Spanish name, the setting (seaside town after Labor Day).
The band name “Lifter Puller” makes me think it’s from the punch line of some joke—like “Dead Milkmen”—except no one’s told me the joke. The statement “Lifter, puller, throw ‘er on the floor” keeps popping up in my brain, I don’t know from where. (Well, from my brain, obviously . . . ) I like the promo sheet, too. “The City Pages also recently quoted Joe Strummer as saying ‘It’s Lifter Puller’s world . . . We just live in it,’ in a story about the Clash. Of course, that same evening he was overheard saying to Craig, ‘You guys are going to be bigger than Blur, or Pavement . . . [pause] . . . or Blur,’ so take that in mind. With Fiestas + Fiascos I fully expect to get more press than Blur or Pavement. Or even Blur!” Well, I’m trying to do my part. (The rock critic came out of the bar, walking carefully. Everything was a blur. He rubbed his eyes, looked down at the pavement. The pavement was a blur.)
The promo sheet for the Distillers’ first album says, “Don’t try to make the pigeon hole for the Distillers smaller than ‘punk.’ ” They’re asking for it, aren’t they? OK: There’s more variety in 30 seconds of the first Pere Ubu album than in all of The Distillers. Blondie, the Contortions, the MC5, the Raincoats—they represented an ocean of possibilities, while this, this, this little barnacle, this seaweed, this discarded shell, this straitjacketed pigeon . . . actually, I like this record a lot. It’s a sliver of a flake of a stereotyped version of a sound that was born a decade before lead singer Brody Armstrong was, but she’s good, being young enough to do this old thing as if it had spit forth from her cranium this morning. As if she didn’t know she was singing a closed world. (And maybe that means it’s not a closed world.) A nice, tuneful screamer. “Hey, ah-ah-yeah! Hey. Fuck you. And I’ll fuck you. Fuck you.” But tunefully. Hey, big guy, want a nice tuneful fuck? Want some nice Jett-Courtney throat-retch? I’m functional, like a wall-bed (what are they called?) clanking down on your skull. (Not really; I just felt the need for a simile.) Squalling vocals. Stormy vocals? That seems so quaint, to have vocals that one could describe as “stormy.” His beautiful but stormy wife, Isabella . . .
Track 10, “Red Carpet and Rebellion,” has the lyric “colossally mistaken,” which is a great lyric to have, though I don’t know what it’s about. Bloodshed, puritanic shit, ain’t no money ain’t no time, I’m out of my mind. St. Petersburg 1905—Yeah yeah yeah, and after that a shock of pogroms and my great-grandparents and their children fleeing for their lives. (The Distillers’ actual lyrics seem not to coalesce into anything colossal, or even understandable. “Oh Serena, I know what they’re saying about you. It’s not true.” But what are they saying about her? That she’s a ditz, a frivolous airhead? Whereas we know that she’s really Sailor Moon, the girl who will protect humankind from the evil forces of the Negaverse? But the song says nothing of the sort. The song says, “night irreverential, the time, carneleby is a bit of you.” I’m not making this up.) “Gypsy Rose Lee”: A pretty song. Brody Armstrong is scratching at the cracks in her voice, like Patti Smith, like Joe Strummer. She’s not as brilliant as Joe, but like him she finds beauty amidst the ruin of her vocal cords. The joy of anguish.
Leatherface’s Horsebox is yet another roar of beauty. Or beauty of roar, except it’s a barely implied beauty of a would-be roar. I’m not sure how much I like it, but I keep listening out of curious fascination. The singing (by Frankie Stubbs) has scratch and ruin all right, but when you dig into it for a voice you get nothing. It’s like listening to someone with laryngitis. Yet somehow it lifts itself—lifts its nothing—into melody, into a kind of sketchy transcendence. Two or three of the songs, anyway, could rank with “Suspect Device” and “Alternative Ulster,” by Stiff Little Fingers. Which is pretty damn good, though with phlegm in place of the Stiffies’ little screech. So I do like this album. “This is the spilt milk stench of wretch, an average cold walk home, avoiding sunspots, soundbites like snowstorms.” That’s telling ’em.
The Self-Starter Foundation, PO Box 422, New York, NY 10276; BYO Records.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 12, 2000