Album Review: "It Was Easy"
Title Tracks's CD, "It Was Easy," might be labeled pop-punk or alt-rock. But the title of one of the songs on this sparkling debut offers a more exact tag: "Black Bubblegum." Title Tracks's only full-time member, D.C. singer and multi-instrumentalist John Davis, writes songs that are snappy yet dark.
Davis, a veteran of Georgie James and Q and Not U (a band he was in with Post writer Chris Richards), has mastered the balance of sweet and sour. "Steady Love," for example, evokes early Jam, which combined blithe refrains with anxious rhythms. Even the most exuberant of these songs is laced with irony: The album's title track is a jangly folk-rocker that bitterly explains "it was easy" to live without friends and ideals.
Davis is a pop scholar whose latest project dabbles in reggae ("No, Girl") and funk ("Hello There"), and breathily emulates early-'70s John Lennon ("At Fifteen"). The album also includes covers of songs by Bruce Springsteen (a duet with Camera Obscura's Tracyanne Campbell) and the Byrds.
Most of the songs are swift and jumpy, tapping into the adolescent rage and ecstatic release of late-'70s punk. When Davis sings about what he just "Found Out," the news is not good, but the melody is joyous.
-- Mark Jenkins, Weekend (Feb. 2010)
You've seen Dan Scheuerman before. It might not have been at a show that his band, Deleted Scenes, was playing. In fact, it was more likely at a show that another band was playing and he was standing outside handing out a flyer or a CD. A couple weeks ago I left the Velvet Lounge and there he was. The next night I went to the Rock and Roll Hotel and there he was again. And that was only his first stop of the night -- after that it was off to DC9 for more promoting. Ask Schuerman about it and he'll tell you that he hasn't been doing enough to get the word out. "I kind of slacked on promoting shows while I was living in New York. But now that I'm back in D.C. again, I've been doing a bunch of that," he says.
If things keep going the way they've been going for Deleted Scenes, who are headlining on the Black Cat's main stage for the first time Saturday, Scheuerman might soon be able to give up his evening hobby. Or at least pass off the duties to street teamers. After years of toiling that included long-distance practices and a self-booked national tour, Deleted Scenes has clawed its way to the top of the D.C. music scene. Sometimes the daily grind of trying to put a tour together can take its toll -- "Cold-e-mailing busy people with egos is no one's idea of a good time. Throw in the fact that you're selling yourself, and you've pretty much got the antithesis of why we make music," Scheuerman says. But he also says it helped the band become tighter and helped them make friends and contacts in other cities.
The serious commitment wouldn't mean much if there weren't songs worth hearing, but Deleted Scenes -- Scheuerman (vocals/guitar), Matt Dowling (bass/vocals/guitar/vibes/trumpet/etc.), Chris Scheffey (guitar/piano) and Brian Hospital (drums) -- has hit its stride in a major way on debut album "Birdseed Shirt." It's an album of smart, slippery and varied indie rock songs, but it never feels like the band is forcing things just for the sake of being different. Some songs have the nervous energy of early Talking Heads, while others succeed thanks to intricate subtleties that show an obsessive attention to detail. Don't get too attached to any of those sounds, though. Scheuerman has no interest in doing the same thing twice.
"I think Thom Yorke said, 'Whatever worked last time, never do it again.' That's been a guiding principal for us. We hope to make the next record sound like OutKast," Scheuerman said.
"Well, in all likelihood, we'll probably just write one song that sounds like OutKast, and then get bored of that after one song and try something different."
"Birdseed Shirt" received plenty of praise in the D.C. area upon its release, but the band got a national boost when the album was given a glowing review by indie tastemakers Pitchfork earlier this month. It may just be one number on one Web site, but as plenty of bands can attest, that one number can change your career. Simply getting reviewed on the site is a big deal, but to score an 8.0?
"I didn't shriek, but I definitely stayed up all night unable to sleep. There's been a lot more attention locally," Scheuerman said. "As far as a national bump, I think that's reserved for Best New Music bands, which I guess we missed by 0.1 point."
Even with that missing tenth of a point, the band seems to be doing just fine. The Black Cat just did something that made Scheuerman even more thrilled than that Pitchfork review.
"I saw our CD in the jukebox there the other day, which was the highest honor we've ever received."
--David Malitz, March 2009