APRIL 2005 ISSUE
The Lonesome Death of Electric Campfire
The Lonesome Death of Electric Campfire – Adam McIntyre
The Mockers are a 4-piece power-pop combo comprised of veteran musicians with roots spanning the far reaches of the globe -- from the smog-meets-surf of Los Angeles, California, to the unlikely European pop hotspot of Madrid, Spain -- with a brand new album (their third, in fact) entitled “The Lonesome Death of Electric Campfire” (released March 22, 2005 on Zebra Records). Yes, it’s a strange title for an album, yet the underlying concept becomes tequila-clear once the exquisite packaging and detailed artwork are examined (Recording Academy voters, are you reading this?).
The Mockers have a long and sordid past -- not unlike most rock bands -- and, over the years, have stayed true to their pop-with-a-razors-edge musical vision. Spawned in the genteel suburbs of Virginia Beach, Virginia in the mid-1980’s, the Mockers have since transformed themselves into the darlings of Spain’s considerable -- and, compared to America, thriving -– power-pop scene, in the process garnering the band significant airplay, respectable chart action, and several television appearances and magazine features. Quite an achievement under any circumstances, but especially so in these times of non-existent record label support, peer-to-peer file sharing systems robbing artists of their rightful income, and general malaise -- or, perhaps more accurately, burnout -- among a jaded ‘been there, heard that’ music buying public.
Throughout the band’s various incarnations, the unwavering musical vision of two men –- Seth Gordon and Tony Leventhal -– has guided The Mockers with a steady “pop until you drop” mentality, showcasing super-sized Cheap Trick inspired hooks, Beatles influenced multi-part harmony vocals, and intriguing, occasionally politically infused lyrics. Their music would not, under most circumstances, be considered groundbreaking, although, in the openly -– proudly! -- derivative power-pop genre, breaking with tradition isn’t necessarily smiled upon. Recently recruited band members Robbie Rist (producer, guitars, vocals, arrangements) and Nelson Bragg (drums, vocals, arrangements), pop scene veterans in their own right, add an appreciable level of melodic and sonic “oomph” to the material, and their presence is a welcome one, cementing the current line-up as one of the strongest in today’s power-pop scene.
Opening with the upbeat, pure melodic goodness of “Real Enough for Me” (sounding for all the world like a long-lost Cheap Trick “In Color” outtake), “The Lonesome Death of Electric Campfire” paints an expansive yet homespun mural comprised of loosely related songs –- pixels, if you will -– which, in totality, form a vision which is not so much a cohesive concept as an in-the-moment lifestyle depiction. Each of the songs on “Lonesome Death...” tell interrelated stories which set scenarios wherein life defining moments occur –- as is often the case in real life.
Most, if not all, of the songs are delivered with an appealingly earnest, utterly convincing vocal delivery courtesy of main vocalist Gordon, although all of the band members contribute their considerable vocal talents throughout the recording (drummer Bragg is currently a vocalist in Brian Wilson’s touring band, if that can be considered an indication of the level of talent involved).
From the “Beatles ’65”-esque cotton candy 12-string jangle of “Something New”, to the Bush-bashing cry of “The Emperor Strikes Out” (with it’s hilarious accompanying video featuring a mock cameo appearance by President G.W. Bush himself, along with the band and an assorted cast of surly characters), to the Twilight Zone-inspired introspection of “Willoughby Station”, fans of melodic, thoughtfully-conceived pop music will find a wellspring of melodic and lyrical ideas at play on “Lonesome Death...”. The Lennon-esque wordplay of “Little Girl Blue” makes this song a clear standout, and the rollicking hometown throw-down of “Mola, Guay, OK” –- one of my personal favorites, by the way -– adds to the sonic smorgasbord served up by the band. All in all, the album plays amazingly consistent from start to finish, without once sounding “samey” or melodically repetitive -– a rare feat in the face of today’s cut-and-paste songwriting mentality.
The production attributes of “Lonesome Death...” are nothing less than charming; Rist, producer of nine of the twelve tracks (the other three having been previously produced by some guy named Mitch Easter), dials in a scrappy, handcrafted, spontaneous party vibe, laced with delightfully distorted guitars, subtle-to-thrashing drums, whirring keyboards, and layers of vocal harmonies drenched with intertwining counter-melodies. Rist is, in fact, a domineering force on the album, asserting his musical will by providing a plethora of guitar textures -– from ringing 12-string Rickenbacker jangle to stinging Nielson-esque face-shredding solos -– which all but define the sonic character of the album. Alongside Rist, Gordon more than holds his own as a concise, emotional guitarist with his own unique presence; bassist Leventhal is rock-solid, displaying melodic chops which reveal more than a passing fascination with Paul McCartney, while drummer Bragg almost defies description -– he’s that rare breed of perfectly focused “in-the-moment” musician who just so happens to be a master rhythmic technician. Together, the band seems capable of almost anything their imaginations deem possible.
With “The Lonesome Death of Electric Campfire”, the Mockers have taken a crucial step which most creative, intelligent bands eventually face: assembling a unique sounding album which incorporates and expands upon, rather than merely emulates, their collective influences. Although I have heard stories firsthand of how difficult this album was to make -- suffice it to say that there was plenty of alcohol and understandably headstrong personalities involved -– the end results more than justify the means. A classic-in-the-making, “Lonesome Death…” is required listening for students of the Raspberries, Teenage Fanclub, Cheap Trick and Matthew Sweet.