Monday, May 5, 2014
1997 With Badges On Our Knees
THE VAN PELT Imaginary Third
La Castanya Records
My review of The Van Pelt’s “Imaginary Third” begins with another band, All Natural Lemon Lime Flavors. They had come to Kalamazoo to exhibit their own special take on the My Bloody Valentine/Swirlies funnel cloud fuzzy psychedelic tapestry of sound. They play in a ruined space with dangling drop ceiling. They sound good in there. A lot of people did, it was the latest in a series of venues put together by the scene elders who made our lives so much better. Anyways, I start talking with a man named Alop, who came with the band. I ask him about The Van Pelt. He says he just recorded them and that their second bass player was moving to California or something of that nature and that they needed somebody. I immediately left the show, ran into the house and dubbed a quick copy of a three year old studio session with a band I used to play bass in called The Paraguay City Rollers. I write what is most likely an embarrassingly earnest letter saying I will move to New Jersey in a hot second if they’ll take me on as a replacement. I give it to Alop to hand off to The Van Pelt and life moves on.
Fast forward to 1997, I’m in a new band, The Roman Invasion Suite, and we’re on tour and about to record our full length album at WGNS in Washington D.C. Along the way we play a string of shows and we cross paths with The Van Pelt twice. The first time at a skate park in upper PA and the second time at a church in Philadelphia. At the skate park we were both unloading our gear and I couldn’t resist. I approach Chris Leo with a sort of abstract ice breaker- “Did you get my tape?” He stops and looks at me, puzzled and I finish with “it was an audition tape for your vacant bass player spot” Toko hears this and also looks a bit puzzled. Chris lights up and says “That was you?!” We laugh and he explains to Toko what had happened.
They play a bunch of new songs that night. They keep getting better. The songs just lock together and come out hard coal turned diamond nuggets. Chris and Brian’s guitars intertwine DNA strand like, and for a time, I’m in a jingle jangle bliss state. We play that other show together and then my band breaks up and so does theirs. I only get to hear a couple of the new songs on an Art Monk E.P. called The Speeding Train. The rest appear on Chris Leo and Toko’s new group’s Lapse debut. I’m glad I get to hear them finally and sometimes I’d make tapes of the Lapse songs and the Van Pelt E.P. songs together to form what would have been their third album. It goes without saying that it’s a very nerdy thing to do. Up there with personally curated Beach Boys Smile tapes (guilty) and imaginary Beatles albums culled from solo albums and bootlegs (guilty). I managed a record store and hosted a jazz & punk rock radio show. I live eat and breathe music.
I see Chris later at one of these Lapse shows. I’m living in New York and we exchange emails to try and figure out a time to sit around and play jangle guitars. School consumes me and he’s a busy fellow.
Fast forward again to yesterday. I’m flipping through albums in Minneapolis, kinda shaking my head at all these $20-25 dollar new releases and there it is. The Van Pelt’s “Imaginary Third”, an album with unreleased tracks from their last sessions. Instinctively my hand reaches into my pocket for loose dollars and the transaction is complete. I’m walking down the street with the sun on my back holding some new Van Pelt. New old Van Pelt. The circle of life is complete. I smile, world peace happens somewhere, in some universe, and birds chirp, and the ants do their thing. I love the Van Pelt and this is unquestionably their finest work. The sharp, stabby trebly bits from their first album mixed with the sad single note solace of their second, fused together with additional Bo Diddley and a ridiculously funny chant on top. The album has a seething anger to it. It's a timebomb of a listen. The kind of thing that makes for great listening but takes a toll on the participants. I’m still mad they broke up. Chris, Brian, Neil, Toko, you’ve done some beautiful work here on this imaginary third album. I kind of always knew it was going to be great.