Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Chris Leo

Not Paul Simon

I don't know if Chris Leo is notoriously difficult, or I've just taken one and built him a reputation in my mind up around it. The former frontman for New Jersey's Gern-Blandsten-ians Native Nod, hype-manipulators The Van Pelt, "project band" The Lapse, might receive a little more attention for his last name now that his older brother Ted Leo is prescribing an over-the-counter double-dose of mod-beat n' Costello to audiences with some help from his Pharmacists (oh fuck, I'll stop that messy metaphor), but he's got things on the
move - a novel, White Pigeons, published by Fifth Planet Press, a solo project that flys under the moniker Vague Angels,
and a slot playing guitar with Scottish group Pro Forma (who, it must be added, count Paul from Franz Ferdinand as a former member).

Chris' distinct err, ahh, "talky" manner of singing, coupled with his insistent and sometimes too-clever lyrics have certainly won him a fair share of invictives throughout the years, Pitchfork's Ryan Schreiber delivering a nasty little ear-boxing in his review of The Lapse's Heaven Ain't Happenin', claiming that each song on the album was "crammed with Chris Leo's self-important rants" and accusing him of maintaining a "crass superiority." (Pfft to all that, man - Dylan's Like A Rolling
was a self-important rant, certainly a bit crass, and if Argumentum ad Hitlerum is the final word in political and/or historical discussion, Argumentum ad Dylanum is the final word in rock n' pop discussion.)

I don't find Leo's lyrical stylin's, flourishes or his eloquence as offensive to my sensibilities as Schreiber or any number of others, and while I'm not going to deny the similarities in some bits to Nada Surf's Popular (Jesus, I'm really not doing him any favours here, am I?), Leo pre-dates that, and he's too clever by half to be manipulating the listener in such a painfully blunt and obvious manner, it's just his voice warbles sometimes, right?

The Van Pelt - His Steppe Is My Prairie.mp3

Welcome to the 90s! Listen to the production on that ride cymbal, the palm-muted break-down about 50 seconds into the song. Wait, don't go! Don't leave! Hear him out! This is the opening track from The Van Pelt's debut album, Stealing From Our Favourite Thieves, released by Gern Blandsten and, more than likely, still available from them. Chris Leo drops some folky touchstones: banjos, bluegrass,
the Sengalese, Injuns : "Fire, retire, and wipe your hands on your company seams! Cold, gold, they built a fortress on the weakest of stones" and then talky-part, scream, breakdown, and out! Chris Leo crafted a fantastic pop-song,
replete with insistent Pentecostal speaking-in-tongues tone, but as penance for having written this song during that dark period of musical history (the mid-90s), he has to include some dated-sounding production and guitar harmonics. Fine, I'll accept it!

The Lapse - Buffet.mp3

Toko Yasuda, Japanese ex-pat and formerly a member of Blonde Redhead came to more prominence with The Lapse, which functioned as a project between Leo and herself and a rotating cast of drummers and other musicians who played with them throughout two albums: 1998's Betrayal and
2000's Heaven Ain't Happenin'. Her voice pops up in this song Buffet from the second album, augmenting Leo's diatribe on "meals out of condiments," which is, you know, a strong metaphor for the malnourishment and impoverishment of human existence, natch. Built on a strong guitar riff, it takes even longer than it did for him to start singing on the track I posted above, almost two whole minutes!

The Lapse project crashed and burned prior to their signing to Matador and working on their third full-length as visa problems sadly caused the band and Chris and Toko's relationship to dissolve. Subsequently, Chris took off to South America, where one assumed he gathered some material for his novel. Toko now plays in Enon (who leave me flat), and as I mentioned above, Chris performs with Pro Forma and on his own, as Vague Angels. Rumours that drunken school-teacher Robert Pollard (of Guided By Voices) got The Lapse dropped from Matador after a fistfight with brother Ted Leo at a gig are possibly true.

No comments: