I’m partial to acoustic sessions, demos, and just downright lo-fi recordings. The exception to this is punk music. Punk doesn’t always translate well into the acoustic realm. This is for a few reasons. First, punk musicians aren’t always that talented. That’s kind of the point of punk music. You get a chance to let out your aggression via a handful of power cords or overdrive drenched simplicity riffs. I’m trying to come up with some acoustic punk that I like, and aside from Gogol Bordello, not much comes to mind. I mean, if you told me you had acoustic Black Flag demos of the Damaged album, I’d listen, but I doubt the aggressive swagger of the album would translate well. Secondly, punk lyrics often rely upon the music to carry them through. I know there are exceptions to the rule, but take a punk mainstay like “Beat on the Brat,” turn it into an acoustic ditty, and the Dr. Seuss sing song lyrics will start to grate on you.
When The Dead Milkmen front man Joe Jack Talcum’s acoustic album, Home Recordings 1993-1999, came across my desk, I was a little less than thrilled. Let’s add up the facts here. First, The Dead Milkmen are a satirical punk band. They’re a running gag of a band. I’m not saying there a bad or laughable band, but they are a band that doesn’t take themselves seriously at all. In fact, the band really could have been a fluke with songs like “Bitchin’ Camaro” or “Takin’ Retards to the Zoo.” These don’t sound like songs that would stand the test of time, yet, The Dead Milkmen’s first album, Big Lizard in my Backyard, holds up surprisingly well, and I really hate that juvenile punk music of NOFX or Blink 182. The Dead Milkmen have always maintained a minimalistic Minutemen, lo-fi vibe that has created an interesting and enduring feel to their music. So, you can see my apprehension at Joe Jack Talcum’s Home Recordings. Based on the band’s history, it sounds like Talcum would inevitable fail at the whole acoustic thing. First of all, the Dead Milkmen’s lyrics aren’t all that strong, and their playing is minimalistic and sparse. How will this translate into an acoustic album?
The truth is, that Talcum’s punk vibe translates welling into acoustic songs. I was surprised upon listening to Talcum’s Home Recordings. The album has a lo-fi charm similar to early Beck. No, Talcum hasn’t grown up at all. His lyrics aren’t deep, and his playing isn’t mind-blowing. Still, Talcum manages to craft a set of acoustic songs that are downright charming. “Talk,” the second track on the album, definitely has the sound of a 90’s tune. It’s a smartass ditty, with a chorus of “blah blah blah…” It’s a nice little sing-along number that you could have told me was a Marcy Playground B-side, and I would have believed you. With that being said though, I enjoyed “Talk” far more than I ever have any Marcy Playground song. Not all of the tunes on the album are acoustic though. “Sweet and Sour” and “Be my Property” are nice garage rock rave ups that could have easily fit in on a Dead Milkmen album with their minimalistic post punk vibe. “Forever Expanding Dream” even has some touches of psychedelia with echo and reverb flourishes. There are parts of the album that drag, but overall, the album is a nice listen that will appeal to freak folk fans, garage rock fans, and punk fans alike.
Home Recordings 1993-1999 is Talcum’s second album in the home recordings series with Home Recordings 1984-1990 preceding it. Both of Talcum’s Home Recordings are available from http://hhbtm.com/. The LP comes with a download code.