Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

The New Lou Reeds - Ohio Is Out Of Business

The New Lou Reeds
Ohio Is Out Of Business


AOTM #90, November 2007ce
OHIO IS OUT OF BUSINESS is a compilation created by Julian Cope of his favourite songs by the New Lou’s.

SIDE ONE
  1. Stranded in Ashland (3.10)
  2. Teenage Metalhead (3.22)
  3. Delaware Must be Destroyed (3.09)
  4. Looking for a Boogaloo (5.34)
  5. Bury Me with My Bong (6.03)
SIDE TWO
  1. Naw, Syke (1.33)
  2. You Don’t Have to Die (5.26)
  3. Hate Fest (3.25)
  4. Ohio is Out of Business (5.28)
  5. Sawbuck in Memphis (5.17)


Note To Readers: In an effort to distil more succinctly The New Lou Reeds’ somewhat rampant and scattershot muse for Head Heritage readers, I’ve culled these ten songs from the band’s 2003 debut LP SCREWED, 2006’s TOP BILLIN’, their “disappointing sophomore album” (their description), and this year’s cassette-only EP MOONSHINE ‘N MIRACLES. I coulda picked 15 songs or even 20, I guess, but these ten taken together make a heavily-rotatable and tight-ass compilation with which I can feel proud to petition my readers/listeners, many of whom probably have highly limited free time and one-eye-too-many on the download, as opposed to the bongload.

Note To The Band: Please forgive me if this sequencing rides roughshod over your efforts, gentlemen. All I can say in my defence is that – from the compilation’s title to the choice of songs – I’ve tried to nail your own metaphor as best as any Limey married to a Yankee could. Ta muchly, Julian.



English rudeness v. American rudeness, or “Why Stick Two Fingers Up to the Man when One Will Do?”

When Minnesota singer/guitarist Steve Kuchna came to Cleveland, Ohio, and formed his exceptional Avant-Truckstop power trio, he musta known that naming them The New Lou Reeds was tantamount to shooting himself in the foot moments before attempting to run a marathon. Indeed, naming your band after one of rock’n’roll’s greatest All Timers is such a clear act of self-sabotage that the outside world has just gotta read such a statement as thee most vainglorious Intuitive Non-Career Move that any artist could make. Perverse to the point of rendering himself culturally invisible (try looking for New Lou Reeds on Google, motherfuckers), Kuchna next opted for the virtually unreadable stage moniker Stephe DK (pronounced ‘Steve Decay’) and set about establishing a band that sounds almost as fanatically unlike The Velvet Underground as any you could wish for. For, while The Velvet Underground always sounded stubbornly urban, emphatically free of blue notes, and studiedly removed from their songs’ subject matter through Lou Reed’s perversely observational post-Dylan monotone, each bluesy, back-porch opus by The New Lou Reeds casts Stephe DK as a man drowning at the Kafkaesque epicentre of his own lyrical maelstrom, forever being dissed by rock promoters, bar-room chicks with bad attitudes, cops with too much time on their hands, and government men with their eyes on his stash. And each New Lou’s track comes replete with some of the greatest guitar playing I’ve heard this side of John Fogerty, Mark Farner, Stacy Sutherland and Neil Young, but rarely if ever informed by Lou Reed himself. Brothers’n’sisters, there’s an inspirational yawp in the guitar playing of Stephe DK that is so Goddamned painful and real that, were his songs merely instrumentals, hell, they’d still be essential. Which is why, in naming his ensemble after that old Velvets duffer, Brother DK is most assuredly buddying up to such legendary Glam Descendants as Les Rallizes Denudés’ Mizutani and Half-Man/Half-Biscuit’s N. Blackwell in the self-non-promotion/anti-hero stakes, working his butt off in a deli by day, getting paid squat for long distance gigs in Knobshine, Indiana and Drywank, Colorado by night, and even releasing virtually unobtainable cassette-only albums such as 2007’s MOONSHINE ‘N MIRACLES to a jaw-droppingly uninterested local population. Dammit, fellow motherfuckers, I love The New Lou Reeds, and I care about this Stephe DK guy one helluva lot. I’ll admit that even I find his songwriting is often haphazard and patchy, and his three long-playing statements so far released are unlikely to set the world on fire however much I hassle your reluctant asses to go out and buy his work. But, brothers’n’sisters, he’s always listenable and always valid and, once you get used to his singular flat-earth worldview and that… ahem, voice, well, you start to see his incorrigible micro-world-weariness as an essential part of your musical backdrop, a bit like the manner in which Neil Young and Van Morrison fans just have to accept the whole schmeery oeuvre in order for the genius of the best bits to have any context. For the past half-decade, I’ve made a sustained and valiant attempt to act as a paladin for the new American Underground’s so-called Neo-Folk/Anti-Folk/What-the-Folk movement – the post-Sunburned Hand generation, as it were. But the fantastic music barfed out by these feral backward backwoodsmen and hairy-underarmed daughters of the new revolution has been constantly undermined by the super-lame lyrical stance (if you can even call it that) summoned up by these otherwise righteous troubadours. Indeed, in the current climate at least, merely being seen to be anti-Bush appears to be considered political enough for their overly-earnest FolkJokeOpus. Which is why the braying Uber-whinny of The New Lou Reeds appears so damned refreshing from here in beleaguered ol’ Blighty, where we don’t have the 3,500-mile Atlantic Ocean security blanket protecting our asses from touchy fundamentalist berks who be-burka their babes. Now I ain’t claiming that The New Lou Reeds are any more heftily political than the aforementched (mainly wonderful) FreeFuck outfits, but at least the New Lou’s ain’t claiming to be revolutionary neither. But (and it’s a big hairy ‘but’, kiddies), I have to ask who’s the most real American folk singer of the day? It sure ain’t Howlin’ Rain or Devendra Go-Kart. No, for my money, you only have to listen one pass through the lyrics of the New Lou’s singer Stephe DK to learn more about the guaranteed No Future of 21st Century Middle America than any of the songs of those other too la-de-da so-called lyricists. Fuck the cocaine allusions, Revolution’s Children, these songs by the New Lou Reeds are about scoring food, getting ripped off daily by the Man, and getting laughed at by rock chicks ‘cause you’re too damned ugly to command their respect. America, I love your underground folk scene, but as an English observer wishing to learn about where the new colony is at in 2007CE, it’s when I listen to the words of this rock guy’s songs that I learn a whole lot about your culture real quick; so the evidence is strong that he’s gotta be the realest folk singer among you. Okay, so now I shut the fuck up and get on with the review…


‘Post-It’s From The Edge’ or ‘So what’s it sound like?’

OHIO IS OUT OF BUSINESS commences with the blistering over-driven motorik menace of ‘Stranded in Ashland’, a post-VANISHING POINT 3-minute road movie built around one of thee hottest Stratocaster single-coil guitar riffs yet barfed out into this 21st Century, indeed so hot that the cops are soon on our hero’s tail, hauling his driver friend off to the nearest town to pay a fine, but not before having unceremoniously dumped Herr DK at some sub-76 truckstop, when the poor stoned sucker should be heading for a much needed vacation. ‘What the fuck!’ he screeches inchoately, his melted plastic mind close to meltdown, all the while effortlessly excavating classic riff-after-riff, like the Elevators’ Stacy Sutherland playing Montrose’s ‘Bad Motor Scooter’. What a way to begin! ‘Stranded in Ashland’ is an All Time classic, a veritable ’71 Dodge Challenger (orange, natch) with every inch of its black vinyl roof polished to perfection. Next up comes the epic polio strut of ‘Teenage Metalhead’, a song many Head Heritage fans will already know because of its inclusion on our 2004CE sampler DUE TO LACK OF INTEREST, TOMORROW HAS BEEN CANCELLED. For those who missed out, suffice to say that ‘Teenage Metalhead’ is an over-caffeinated 6/8 finger-pointing glitterstompf; a jarring, caterwauling lyrical demolition of small town America’s Everygoth community by this too-unsung guitar genius who demands his right to kneecap anyone and everyone who thinks they’re gonna make it just because they “can really rock out on air guitar” (though I gots to admit, kiddies, that it was this song that most inspired… nay, DROVE me to my current state of deluded Uber-rock cliché sartorial inelegance, when I first heard it back in ‘003). Like all of Stephe DK’s songs, ‘Teenage Metalhead’ features some remarkably acerbic and snotty asides, but this one surpasses even his stellar standards with this out-of-the-blue couplet: “Driving a Camaro and getting high, Without warning a wizard walks by!” I mean, c’mon!!! Next up, ‘Delaware Must be Destroyed’ fades in like a cartoon biker slug riding a souped-up vacuum cleaner; it’s just a righteously dum-dum fuzztone riff over which DK declares his sheer mystification that natives of the aforementioned state even admit to its being their home (‘New Jersey is a motherfucker, but this is just plain wrong’), let alone presuming to wear it as some badge of cultural honour (George Thoroughgood, is that the best you can claim?). Like our own N. Blackwell from Half Man/Half Biscuit, Stephe DK shines a flashlight into the unknown shadows of his too-oft applauded culture, only to recoil in horror at the nest of vipers he’s discovered, pausing on to (in the inimitable words of Kiss’ Stanley Starchild): “… uh, Move On!!!”. Which brings us to the biggest and baddest track on the whole album, that sagging 20-stoner known as ‘Looking For a Boogaloo’.1 This song (which opened the TOP BILLIN’ LP) abandoned the sleek Spring Chicken early coupé version of The New Lou’s, replacing it with a new family saloon/sedan arrangement, somewhat along the lines of FoMoCo’s momentous decision to replace the original 1955-57 Ford Thunderbird 2-seater boulevardier concept with the big-assed ’58 four-seater. Ousted from The New Lou’s rhythm section were the skinny Cross brothers (featured on this compilation’s first two tracks), replaced by more hardy veterans of the Cleveland scene, bass player Ed Sotelo and drummer Jeff Ottenbacher. Moreover, a whole host of auxiliary musicians would hereafter be employed to boost the sound, which has – thus far – become somewhat straighter overall but all the better for it. Indeed, ‘Looking for a Boogaloo’ is a huge rock’n’roll song in the vein of Mott the Hoople’s wonderfully cumbersome MAD SHADOWS- period, ie: it’s far more accepting of its Jerry Lee roots, but it just gets on with it in thee most unhung-up manner. Besides, when a poet of the calibre of Stephe DK is (James Brown-style) singing about filling his stomach before getting high and getting down, we really DO have to worry about the future of Midwest America! Luckily for us, brothers’n’sisters, side two closes with the soon-to-be song standard ‘Bury Me With My Bong’, six-minutes of bombed Acid Campfire replete with chick singer chorale and communal bonced giggling. Like my own ‘I Gotta Walk’ (from AUTOGEDDON), ‘Bury Me With My Bong’ begins with the burning and inhaling of the blessed sacrament, afore ye bard kicks in with his righteous declaration that he won’t want ‘some phoney priest hanging around’ at his funeral, just his close friends and an oz. of the finest green thrown into the casket. Herr DK then proceeds to explain how, on his arrival at the Pearly Gates, “Me and St. Peter, we gonna fire up a blunt”, while the aforemenched ladies of the chorus bill and coo the classic line: “Sit in salvation ‘n’ burn one with the Lord” over and over and fucking over again. Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

Side two opens with the comparatively slight 90-seconds of ‘Naw, Syke’, mainly because its ironic pro-crack banter is as funny and (to these ears) as essential as Speed, Glue & Shinki’s equally cunted ‘Doodle Song’. ‘Are those drums in tune?’ whines DK to drummer Ottenbacher, who shoots back: “Are those shoes in tune?” Then weez back off into more addled tales of 21st Century Middle America with the blues heft of ‘You Don’t Have to Die’, a behemoth of a track that opens with the scorching lines: “Behind the wheel of my car, I watch my ass getting bigger, I think I’m choking on a hamburger… This is my time, And it’s good to feel it all passing me by.” Again the new New Lou Reeds rhythm section adds an incredible weight both to Herr DK’s primal riffery and his atonal Allan Ravenstein-isms, the rhythm section’s punctuation of each downbeat creating a notably heavyweight insistence, as Ed Sotelo’s muscular rising bass carries the entire melody of the track. Then follows the solo acoustic poetic declarations of ‘Hate Fest’, a kind of valiant post-Nirvana, post-post-Mafe Nutter hail to ‘the men and their guitars’, as a Las Vegas Basement-style background of sound FX tapes of garrulous canteen diners rattling their condiments, crockery and cutlery conspire to create the illusion of some forgotten minstrel anti-hero forced to court the Mrs Mop vote. Fabulous indeed. Then we’re of into the stinking monolithic blues of this compilation’s title track, an autobiographical explanation of how our hero arrived in Cleveland over fifteen years ago and, from that day until the present time, unsuccessfully dedicated his life to escaping the city, which shackles him like a weakened dwarf standing knee-deep in a skip full of setting toffee. This compilation concludes with the tale of an epic roadtrip to a gig in distant Memphis, where the three band members were rewarded with the princely sum of $10 (the ‘sawbuck’ in question) by the stingy promoter who’d lured them there. Over a jaunty off-the-peg C&W backing track, Stephe DK tells the tale straight and simple until the truth wells up and overflows and, for one brief moment at least, this post-punk prima-donna lets forth a slew of atonal guitar tsunami worthy of his band’s Ur-namesake. Silence ensues as DK chastises himself for losing it temporarily, and the song returns once more to its jaunty, well-mannered pace – though the previously easy-listener is, thereafter, never quite so at ease as before.


In Conclusion

And there you have it, sons’n’daughters of the rebellion, the Album of the Month for November 007. I trust that, presently, those of you with the correct paraphernalia easily to hand will sit in salvation and burn one for Herr DK & Co at least once during the record’s rotation. Hopefully, you’ll return again and again over the next month, maybe check out the band’s myspace or even make a daily pilgrimage here to Head Heritage’s temporary temple to this too unsung hero. Hail, Stephe DK, thanks for sustaining your errant but inspired muse this far into the 21st Century. And one final thing… all praise to your men and your guitar.



FOOTNOTES:
  1. I’ve occasionally seen The New Lou Reeds compared to Pere Ubu. I suspect that this is mainly because of both band’s use of extraneous tapes and FX, their both having hailed from Cleveland, but also because of the (claimed) similarity of Stephe DK’s vocal style to David Thomas’ illegal Ur-whinny. I disagree with it all. Sure, The New Lou’s had an epic acoustic ballad entitled ‘Peter Laughner’ on their first release, but that’s hardly evidence of musical similarities. If there’s any link, then perhaps it’s in Stephe DK’s genuinely Post Punk lack-of-respect for the song’s key, his guitar playing occasionally exhibiting a genuinely exhilarating (and obviously intentional) atonality consonant with the cantankerous EML synthesizer whine produced by Allan Ravenstein throughout the early Ubu LPs. However, this is a fragile link even though I felt it essential to address it.





Discography

SCREWED (Exit Stencil 2004)
TOP BILLIN’ (Exit Stencil 2006)
MOONSHINE ‘N MIRACLES (Shandi 2997)