Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Brendan Kelly/Joe McMahon

Wasted Potential
Red Scare Industries/Anchorless Records

Fuck Aretha Franklin, Freddie Mercury and Bob Dylan. With his acoustic guitar not-so-gently weeping in his lap, working through Lawrence Arms classics like “Like A Record Player,” Brendan Kelly blows them all away.

So punk rock’s trading in its safety pins and studded anarchy for acoustic guitars and a bit of knee-slapping, country yokelness. It’s happening everywhere, all around us – from Durban, South Africa to Gainesville, Florida. This time, however, my attention peaked.

Wasted Potential’s a new split album featuring gremlin-throated Lawrence Arms bassist Brendan Kelly and Smoke or Fire’s resident boozy dreamer, Joe McMahon. It’s a guilty pleasure, really. And as a fan of both bands, it’s great to hear such personal, naked-sounding versions of some of my favourite songs.

If you’re a fan of The Lawrence Arms, Kelly’s tracks are particularly memorable. Kicking off with “Blood Meridian” (“The Redness In the West” from TLA’s 2009 EP
Buttsweat & Tears), and following it up with "There's No Place Like A Stranger's Floor" (from 2005's Cocktails & Dreams), Kelly works his way through two songs usually sung by smooth-sailing guitarist/vocalist Chris McCaughan.

On songs like “Necrotism” (“Necrotism: Decanting the Insalubrious (Cyborg Midnight) Part 7,” from
Cocktails & Dreams) and “Requiem Once Again Revisited” (“Requiem Revisited” from 2006’s Oh! Calcutta!) Kelly sings unusually deep and clean. On his cover of Jawbreaker’s “Kiss the Bottle,” he trades in his signature scratchy croak, sounding almost exactly like McCaughan – which is kind of weird. Same Chicago accent, I guess… I just wanna know what his speaking voice sounds like.

The kicker in Kelly’s set comes at the end of “Blood Meridian,” when he breaks into, “We said we’ll smoke this city to its filter, we’ll empty every bottle, you’ll see us hanging by the river,” from the Smoke or Fire song “Filter.” It’s a great moment, like he did it on the spot, just for the hell of it. Same chords, I guess.

McMahon’s acoustic tracks are a bit more polished, thought through and “traditional” sounding than Kelly’s – less spur of the moment, less rambling. It sounds like McMahon went all out working on the riffs and re-interpreting his own songs in this new acoustic format. His voice sounds great too, especially on let-loose vocal tracks like “Filter” (from 2005’s
Above the City), “What Separates Us All” (from 2007’s This Sinking Ship) and “Little Bohemia” (also from This Sinking Ship).

I just wish McMahon had included fan favourite “California’s Burning.” Then again, that would have been too predictable, I guess. Much less predictable than his pretty random-sounding cover of Johnny Cash’s “Let the Train Blow the Whistle.” Otherwise, a solid effort from McMahon.

99.999% of the world's just not going to get it. "Why are you wasting your time listening to these under-produced, amateur-sounding acoustic recordings?" they'll ask. The answer: "I don't know." But they're genuine singer-songwriters, Kelly and McMahon, posing as punk rockers. Soaked in booze and cigarettes, their words are poetry, they make you feel something, and it's great to hear them so clearly for a change. I guess it's just "something you feel in the sole of your shoe on a loud city bus on some aching afternoon..."

If you act fast, Anchorless have got all kinds of limited edition vinyl versions for sale.

Anchorless Records
Red Scare Industries

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