Saturday, May 22, 2010

An Open Letter To the Scene - Walter Schreifels

An Open Letter To the Scene

Walter Schreifels
Dine Alone Records.

SCQ Rating: 83%

Indie-rock suffers from low self-esteem and who can blame it? Even before birthing the “Alternative” cross, indie-rock seemed unable to flag down critics unless it was drenched in confrontational noise or bohemian pretentions (Sonic Youth, Sebadoh). And to this day we’re compelled by these bands that toy with transgressions untouched by their more conservative major-label counterparts, addressing stereotypes (Xiu Xiu), creating scenes (Animal Collective’s freak-folk card) and instigating world or zeitgeist influences that mainstream culture won’t catch onto for a few years yet. I’m speaking in broad-strokes with purpose here because my point is this: writers need an angle and indie-rock, in its dressed-down, rock-out basics, almost seems defiant by not joining the masquerade. Walter Schreifels has a decorated history among indie-rock’s legacy (leading hardcore acts Youth Of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, plus a slew of others) and reminds us how affecting straight-forward indie-rock can be, unadorned and pretention-free, with An Open Letter To the Scene. God help me if I know what to say about it, though.

Working with a palette that would make your average laptop-saddled chill-wave act blush, Schreifels sticks to a muscular selection of acoustic guitars and brisk percussion on his solo debut. ‘Requiem’ and ‘She Is To Me’ flex surprising emotion out of its clear-cut arrangements, the former an upbeat tell-all that plunders relationship baggage, the latter a smitten love-song riding over a girl-group drumbeat. Even in the record’s textbook sweet moments, however, you get the impression Schreifels is looking through the blurred bottom of a bottle. A lot of this disaffectedness is communicated through his voice, which despite covering a range of styles and nailing some key multitracked harmonies, carries enough grain to convince you he doesn’t really give a shit. It’s this nonchalance that makes ‘Ballad of Lil’ Kim’ so much more than the throwaway track its title suggests, perforating riffs like a Paul Westerberg classic while Schreifels wonders how the rapper is sans make-up and posse. After a few spins, the track’s surprisingly touching and just another indication of how understated this half-hour of power really is.

Since much of An Open Letter To the Scene comes off effortlessly - to the point it almost demeans the lengths some bands go to for a good song - its few stumbles are largely ignorable. ‘Don’t Gotta Prove It’ has a solid riff but little substance whereas ‘Shootout’ is almost too comatose with its own melodrama to wake up. These are small critiques though, that I rarely use the skip button to bypass. Like a much-needed reality check, Walter Schreifels brings indie-rock back to that less-is-more scene that celebrated bands like Eric’s Trip and Pavement. It may be too broad to pigeonhole for the hipsters and maybe that’s how Schreifels screens them. He boasts more than enough hardcore cred to warrant such a theory.

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