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90 Day Men - To Everybody

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Artist: 90 Day Men

Album: To Everybody

Label: Southern

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

One of the strongest and most critically overlooked releases of 2000 was the debut of the 90 Day Men entitled [It (Is) It] Critical Band. The record was an oblique, careening adventure that refused to be slapped with any sort of label outside of the umbrella term “indie rock.” The band has risen again to challenge all comers with their new record, To Everybody, released on underground mainstay Southern Records. While [It (Is) It] Critical Band succeeded because it was raw, literate and caustic, To Everybody abandons all but the skeleton of the previous formula and it effectively zigs where its predecessor zagged. The record creates a listening experience that will certainly be jarring to longtime fans, but should ultimately prove to be a direction worth pursuing. In doing so, the 90 Day Men have displayed a willingness to tinker with both sound and method, and they have once again proved that a band is only as good as their potential to grow.

The record opens with the song “I’ve Got Designs on You,” and it is immediately apparent that this is not the same 90 Day Men that graced ears on the first record. The first clue is that the lead is sung by Rob Lowe, the bass player for the group whose previous vocal outings were primarily limited to the background. His mellow, elastic voice offers a stark contrast to the yowl n’ speak of Brian Case, the guitarist and lead singer who took the bulk of the vocals on previous outings. While the bass throbs and Cayce Key’s drums skitter and pound, a piano introduces itself into the mix and we are greeted by the most interesting new aspect of the 90 Day Men’s sound: Andy Lansangan’s work on the piano. Though Lansangan offered texture and depth on the first record, the incorporation of piano into the band is complete and much more essential on To Everybody. Here we find the band, an exceedingly talented group of musicians, relying even more on the interplay between the instruments. While it has become standard practice for bands to bring new instruments into the fold and write the action off as “expanding the sound,” the 90 Day Men do it without the pretense or the calculation. “I’ve Got Designs on You” moves through new passages easily and confidently, all the while amazing the listener with precision and soul.

“Last Night, a DJ Saved My Life,” (a goof on the old disco jam by Indeep) begins with a low rumble of bass from the piano and the ticking of a metronome, and adds cut beats before picking up steam and tempo. The band adds a serpentine synth groove that is as catchy as any g-funk Teddy Riley tune, and the song achieves near-perfection over the course of its three-minute running time. “Saint Theresea in Love” is stately and beautiful, with interlocking layers of melody and rhythm that spin until all the tumblers fall into place. “We Blame Chicago,” the album’s only instrumental, features a charming guitar-wah tone and optimistic Charlie Brown piano that some might call “rollicking.” The whole thing melts down into a free jazz mishmash, only to be recaptured and brought to conclusion. “Alligator” features beautiful vocal harmonies and a sense of foreboding. The conclusion, “A National Car Crash,” reaffirms that the band’s strength lies in its ability to act as a cohesive whole.

It is a joy to hear a band continue to defy conventions and turn clichés on their ears. Bands like the 90 Day Men give jaded listeners the reaffirmation that there are still many good things to be said within the relatively limited confines of traditional rock instrumentation. To Everybody is a complex record, the kind of knot that close listeners will appreciate unravelling for months and years to come.

By Andy Cockle

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