June 27, 2006

Home "Sexteen"

Home is one of the last American stalwarts of last decade's “low-fi” explosion still standing. They didn't implode like Pavement did; they didn't make futile grabs at mass appeal like Guided by Voices did; they didn't lose their edge like Sebadoh did. They just kept playing shows wherever and whenever they could and releasing album after album, all of which were titled with Roman numerals and crammed with ambitious pop songs. Of course, Home never became as popular as those other bands, which probably helped keep the band from befalling similar fates. Nonetheless, props are due to any band that can stick together for 16 albums without releasing a single stinker. Despite their obscurity, Home has lasted last enough to be cited as an influence on other bands. It's telling that Fivehead, Austin's last great practitioners of indie-rock the way Gerard Cosloy intended it to be, worked a cover of Home's 1996 anthem “Forgiveness” into many of their sets.

Home's latest album Sexteen is a landmark release for two main reasons. One is that on it, the band has expanded to a quintet to accommodate the return of original drummer Sean Martin, who departed nearly a decade ago. The second reason is that it's a concept album about...well...you know. From the album title's obvious pun to the nude couple making out on the cover to the blunt song titles (“Juicy Ass,” “Straddle Me,” “Push” and “Deep Inside” are consecutive tracks), Sexteen maintains a dogged focus on its main topic. The concept isn't that novel: anyone who has heard a Ween record should neither be shocked nor repelled by the sound of nerdy white boys getting crude and lewd. I must admit, though, that hearing Home's three vocalists sing lyrics like “Swallow me whole/Don't let go/Do you wanna feel my fingers go inside of your hole?” in the same adenoidal drawls they use to sing more cerebral lyrics like “I know for a fact that simple cell regeneration/Is no match for the hard crust of the winter ice.”

“Fucking,” the band sings on the song of the same name, “is currently my favorite form of expression.” I'm willing to bet that singing about sex is the band's second favorite: after all, Sexteen does have a whopping 19 songs about it. Fortunately, the album possesses enough stylistic diversity to stave off boredom. Opening track “Other Times (Solar),” with its rigid 4/4 tempo, warm fuzz guitars and ringing keyboards, sounds like the best song that the dearly departed Grandaddy never wrote. The grungy grind of clashing guitars makes “Tim's Entry” sound like the missing fifth track from Watery, Domestic. The mid-tempo alt-country of “Juicy Ass” sounds much sexier than any song with that title has a right to. “Bubble” is a side-splitting funk jam that uses wind-up toys as a metaphor for sexual frustration; the band stops in the middle to eavesdrop on one of its members conversing with a phone sex operator about handjobs. “Rushing” coasts on a slow acoustic groove that would do Bill Withers proud, whereas the glam-rock bombast of “Baby Yeah” sounds like Ziggy Stardust trying to coax a woman into bed. “Straddle Me” and “Moon Kiss” are delicate piano-based ballads that are as sentimental as the other songs are salacious.

is also marked by an effortlessness that betrays the circumstances under which it was recorded. Every song on the album was recorded during a marathon three-day blitz, during which Martin and Chris Millstein (the drummer who replaced him) share drumming duties and the rest of the band traded instruments as needed. Unlike previous albums, the songs on Sexteen aren't as apt to trail off into long stretches of tape-manipulated tomfoolery, or combine to form multi-part suites. Many of them are simply content to milk a single riff for all its worth, a tactic that yields glorious results more often (“Tim's Entry” and the equally hard-rocking “Cry”) than not (the overlong “Deep Inside”). Even though the band probably didn't spend more than a couple hours a piece recording each song, the music never sounds sloppy or rushed. Even the most prudish listeners will have to admit that the songs on Sexteen are skillful and charming enough to compensate for the often tactless lyrics.

Artist Website: www.screwmusicforever.com/home
Label Website: www.brahrecords.com

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