Interviewing Ray LaMontagne as he released his dark and brooding “Till the Sun Turns Black” back in 2006, I asked him why he put out an 11-song, 48-minute album.
It was the height of the CD era, but streaming (or straight-to-iPod, anyway) was starting to make a push, and the 72-minute CD limit was giving way to albums that could be nearly endless – so-called “Deluxe Editions.”
“Oh, I think it’s still about whatever will fit on a vinyl record,” he said. “Forty-five minutes or so. I think that’s about the perfect length.”
It was part of Ray’s old-school aesthetic that had folks comparing him to the “blue-eyed soul” of the type plied by Van Morrison. Vinyl hadn’t made its comeback yet and virtually no one locally was putting out old-school records. It was still a year or two before Record Store Day (celebrated last weekend) came into existence with all its cool vinyl releases.
Even now, when bands play with the vinyl format, it’s usually with single-side songs that span 20 minutes, or double- and triple-albums that mimic their huge digital releases. Very few artists go the direction Divorce Cop has headed with their brand-new “Yup”: 35 songs, on just one vinyl record, running just shy of 43 minutes.
It’s a release full of contradictions.
While it comes in throwback analog format, its creation was completely 21st century, patched together entirely remotely via the sharing of files, with the “band” never playing in the same room together (despite not living all that far apart from one another here in Maine).
And yet the sound is gritty and lo-fi, like they were using Tascam four-track recorders and years-old, second-hand tapes, the garage punk of the late-’70s onward where the singer had to yell loud enough to be heard because no one had a real PA system to plug in a vocal mic.
Oh, and they had the idea for this back in 2019, well before the likes of Custard Paws and Mr. Freezy were making pandemic records together from their respective bedrooms.
Drummer Chris Gervais (Cool Tara, KGFREEZE, Nice Life) didn’t need a global catastrophe to make him want to spend more time at home with his family. And frontman Brock Ginther (Lemon Pitch, Midwestern Medicine) and bassist Anthony Bitetti (Good Kids Sprouting Horns, Great Western Plain) didn’t need much convincing to take the drum tracks he’d sent them and add their layers to the songs.
The result was Divorce Cop, which released a series of digital EPs they’ve now compiled and expanded upon with the vinyl “Yup” (also available streaming), along the way creating an eerily prescient piece of brutalism that speaks to the time where we find ourselves.
While so much of the mainstream music world has applied polish and click tracks and digital precision to create the Spotify hits of today, there is a Bandcamp alternative reality where rough around the edges is the point, an acknowledgment that good enough is good enough in the pandemic times. And no one’s trying to game search engines with song titles or figure out the exact amount of time that should pass before the first drop to maximize likes and deter skipping.
Hell, Divorce Cop’s song titles are throwaway words that may or may not reference lyrics you mostly can’t make out: “Milk,” “Banya,” “Jeff.” The songs are often less than a minute. Just one of them is more than two, and that one, “Disney Movie,” runs longer than seven, a cycling assault of a song where Gervais’ high hat never gives up and the repetitive vocal delivery goes long enough you start to question your sanity. Oh, and there are 20 seconds or so of crashing orchestration like the end of “A Day in the Life.” And then an extra 10 seconds of upbeat punk at the very finish. Because why not.
“Green Seltzer” is warming up into being an indie-rock piece you might hear on a Carseat Headrest record, but then just stops in the middle of a verse at 40 seconds. “Trucks” is full of snares and rim shots and cymbals that are just this side of purely random, like the sound of an old Western shootout.
For a certain adventurous listener, this unpredictability should be delicious to run across. Taken together the 35 songs are like improv jazz, obviously of a piece but with so many little flourishes to listen for. “Not Maybe, Just Now” is a pretty hot little dance track with a killer baseline, isn’t it? Like Pat Benatar singing Janelle Monáe songs. That bass sound on “Geoff” is swamp blues like the Black Keys want to make. Is that a kids’ tune buried in the depths of “Adam Dunn”?
Best of all, it’s not playful or wink-wink or trying to be sly. It’s just weird. And sort of mean-spirited. At one point, I think “Diet Coke” calls me a son of a bitch. Which is fine. Because by the end of this thing you’re probably looking for a fight.
As if you weren’t already.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
2 weeks, 5 songs
• Kurt Baker & Bebe Buell, “Blood and Roses” — Two generations of Portland’s punk-rock scene come together here to cover a classic Smithereens tune. Both of them go full vamp, and you wouldn’t have it any other way. Rock ‘n’ roll.
• Jay Bragg, “Gimme Some Good News” — With his heart on his sleeve, Bragg delivers a classic honky-tonk begging for a little sunshine in his life. See if you don’t agree with the sentiment.
• Andrew Thomas, “Monsters on the Map” — Piano fronted, with drums from Nick Schlesinger, this has a new-age vibe like the outro music to an After School Special.
• Aaron Haines, “First Will and Testament” — The title track of a five-song EP available on 12-inch vinyl, this is some of the more absurdist and caustic “music” you’ll hear, with banging of keyboards and what seems to be literal gibberish. Truly strange stuff.
• Circus-P, “Just for Tonight” — Contemporary dance music you can club to with vocalizations that appear to be stitched together digital vocalizations that don’t quite make sense together. Oddly listenable.
— Sam Pfeifle