Artichoke, on Atavan


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Tonight's my first night on Ativan, prescribed to me because no matter when I go to bed I've been waking every morning at 5 a.m. with a panic that the world has declared me "Unnecessary." I'm at Mr. T's Bowl in Highland Park, CA, to write up a rock show. During one of the opening acts, I look at my notebook and panic because I haven't written anything down in a while. Maybe the Ativan is shutting me off. Then I pay closer attention to the band onstage and realize the Ativan is doing just fine. I write in my notebook: "Why has this song not ended yet?"

Since all of my faculties are devoted to monitoring how this new pill affects me, perhaps tonight's not the best night to review a band. But fuck it. There's no better place to distract yourself from your own fucked-up head than Mr. T's Bowl. A converted bowling alley, the place looks like the local Elks Lodge said, "Our kids wanna put on a show. Let's let 'em use the hall." And the kid putting on the show is Mike TV (short for "Mike Tee-Vee," he tells me). A member of the band Vermicious K, Mike curates and books the Launchpad, a rotating lineup of bands put up several nights a week at the Bowl and the Billiard Inn, a club in West L.A. The more you show up to the shows, says Mike, the more he keeps you playing. Throughout the show Mike's the only one on the dance floor (composed of old bowling lane floorboards), bopping up and down in front of every single band. The rest of the audience is composed of the other bands on the bill downing beers at the big round tables while their girlfriends busily stack promo EPs into neat piles.

Tonight, I'm here to see Artichoke, a good band with an awful name. I first saw Artichoke at a college radio fundraiser. I walked in late and based on their last song alone I decided they would be the best band I'd see that night so I bought their self-released CD, Evaporation (no label), and made for the bar.

I didn't expect to like the disc. First and foremost I didn't like the name Artichoke or the album title, Evaporation. Yeah, they're both opaque, meaningless names. But they just spoke "bland" to me. And I didn't like lead singer Timothy Sellers' shirt-wear. Loud, vulgar prints all the time. And the picture of Sellers in the liner notes, his guitar on his knee, looking off thoughtfully, while it just so happens he's sitting in front of a fucking bookcase full of books. Luckily, none of the above has anything to do with music.

The disc is good. In fact it's one of the most infectious pop albums I've heard in a while. Sellers often sounds too much like Stephen Malkmus for his own good, which might be why I bought the album. It was also why I assumed I'd tolerate it and immediately ignore it. I'd stopped caring about singers who try to sound like Stephen Malkmus around about the time Stephen Malkmus decided to give it a shot (see: Stephen Malkmus, s/t).

You can pinpoint hooks and inflections that could've have been lifted straight off a Pavement or Pixies record, but right before you shout "retread" Artichoke slips a melody underneath that makes the song theirs. Sellers' lyrics veer from allegory ("Jackie and the Beanstalk") to simple ruminations, as on "Mix Tape," an internal debate over whether to tape over another band's album for lack of a blank tape, which calls up fears of his own band's demise and possible "geek rock epitaph."

At 17 tracks and nearly an hour in running time it's too long, if only on principle. Some stuff could've been dumped, such as the half-assed atmospheric intros to some of the songs. And Sellers can sometimes go too-esoteric-for-you, like when he starts singing in French (shudder). But the songs are solid enough to forgive the scattered flaws. And after repeated listens the Evaporation does not bore. It's just a good indie-pop album full of good indie-pop songs that you're glad to have stuck in your head. Considering such an accomplished disc was released only two years after the band's first performance, I look forward to their next one.

In between bands, I pass the time admiring the "look" of each of the kids passing my spot at the bar. With so many different bands and so many little scenes bumping into each other, everyone's out in full uniform. The hipster boy with the shaggy, forward-combed hair and considered red sweatjacket is pretty and his face is a stupid one, which completes the ensemble. The chunky goth girl with yet another of those fucking spiked belts is attractive, like a Shining-era Shelley Duvall (but fat). I wonder about the mod guy, in his red suit and suede hair. He's the only mod guy here and I wonder if he's lonely. The all-around loser is the asshole with the puffy dreads floating above his head and an Army jacket over a shiny pajama top. I actually hate him.

I wonder how someone might label me in my ratty black sweatjacket and Ativan-glassy eyeballs. "Old and over." My "geek rock epitaph."

The next band takes the stage, and if I didn't care for the name Artichoke, I am in amazement at the blind ineptitude of the name "Random Justice." It's not a joke? Random fucking Justice? That's the name of a hair-metal band that broke up midway through their first practice.

Random Justice, or "The Justice" as those in the know might call them, is a group of typically goofy-looking indie-pop boys. And they immediately hold me entranced. The lead singer has a high-pitched girly voice and the songs are crammed with every hook you ever wanted in a song. It sounds like Monkees tunes rewritten and sung by Geddy Lee. Big languorous chords and XTC chants, the songs don't go beyond where you thought they would end but you're glad they didn't. The singer says, "This song's for Brianna." And his girlfriend steps out from behind their stacks of promo CDs to sway on the dance floor next to Mike TV. When their set ends, I want more.

After "The Justice" I'm waiting for Artichoke and scribbling in my notebook when a hipster with a jagged afro approaches me. Spying the notebook: "Are you a poet?"

"Nope."

"Oh." Dejected, he slumps down against a nearby pillar. Holy shit, what would've happened if I'd said yes?

Artichoke starts off slow. Too slow. Sellers sits on an amp with his guitar and Ezra Siegel is on the floor fiddling with an omnichord. They might as well all plop down on beanbag chairs. Playing for a bunch of bands that either just went up or are waiting to go up, they'd better start to rock quickly. They do. By the end of the set, guitarist Octavius Poirier is on the dance floor twirling his cord as a jump rope for Mike TV to the happy beat of "Jackie and the Beanstalk." But they'd devoted too much of their set to the slower tunes to wake anyone else up.

The floor fills up when Arlo next takes the stage. I spend their set talking to a pretty Occidental College student in a red peasant top who looks out of place. She says some promising things ("This place is close to my apartment so I come here a lot to drink alone"). But it would never work out ("I love reggae"). Nevertheless, I ask her to give me her fake e-mail address and she obliges.

Artichoke's CD Evaporation can be purchased at [artichoketheband.com].

Random Justice can be reached via their website, [randomjustice.com].





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