Is D.I.Y. alive? This Northwestern rock compilation looks to prove that it is, and succeeds thoroughly. For those looking for the ten-second “What the heck is D.I.Y. and what are you talking about?” course, D.I.Y. stands for “do it yourself,” and has been identified by critics and musicians alike as the prevailing spirit behind the punk rock movement. The idea is basically that if you can scrape together enough money for a guitar, a few drums and an amp or two, and teach yourself a couple chords, you too can start your own rock band in no time.
This back-to-basics punk spirit is nicely represented on D.I.Y. Is Still Alive, recently released on who-knows-where-based Resident Records. The compilation offers a tasty, homemade sampler platter of more or less Northwestern rockers who have gained little mainstream exposure. Neon Lobster douses the listener with hard-charging rock on “Pinch.” The track plays as if it were a live recording, the crowd tearing the roof down as the lead singer wails, “I never knew you’d have to pinch me to come.” Another worthy track is offered by Bodies in the Basement with “Concubine,” a stomping blues-rock rambler fitted with crunchy guitars and the slightest hint of David Lee Roth-style screeches here and there. Naturally, there’s a lot of anger on D.I.Y., but Sin and Space exhale one collective breath of fresh air with their track, “Satellite.” The chorus to “Satellite,” with its refined three-part harmonies and well-crafted leads over a persistent, percussion-like rhythm guitar, is the type of thing that makes the floor bounce at Jay’s Upstairs.
Plus, the compilation features two Missoula bands, the Disappointments and the International Playboys. The now-defunct Disappointments thrust forth a distortion-filled pop-punk number, “Chachi Loves Fonzie,” prime for the closing credits of a Kevin Smith film. The Playboys check in with “I’m So Sick,” a song of frenzied, driving guitar riffs that builds to a peak for an “insane in the membrane” Captain Sextastic solo.
Whether you’re a long-time follower of the Northwestern rock scene or a newcomer wanting in on the action, D.I.Y. Is Still Alive can fulfill your needs. This little gem could be a nice juxtaposition of a group of old favorites for you, or it could be a welcome introduction to a small corner of the rock world begging for further exploration.
What Just Happened
What Just Happened is one of those bands that’s hard to label. If you were forced to, however, you might call them “user-friendly jazz rock.” These local boys have done good, recording an impressive album, Isadore, in their backyard of Whitefish. Clearly, the goal with What Just Happened (or WJH, if you’re into the whole brevity thing) is to make the listener intone the name of the band in awe, as in—at the close of a exceptionally intense jam, for instance—“Oh my God. What just happened?” Alas, this type of jaw-dropping stupefaction is hard to come by on jazz-rock albums. This is one reason that Phish has never enjoyed particularly outstanding record sales, even when the band’s concert sales were among the highest in the country. So then, what What Just Happened can hope for with a studio release is not so much critical acclaim or through-the-roof record sales, but to awaken a curiosity in the listener, prompting the question, “I wonder what these guys would sound like live?” If Isadore is a teaser, then, the live show must really be quite something, because the album is laced up by a solid rhythm section, some James Brown funk formulas, and transitions that while not quite as smooth as Barry White’s voice (what is?), still lay nice and fat in the cut.
All five members of WJH are talented musicians, and somehow, they’ve managed to share the spotlight. Don Rifkin plays an especially noteworthy keyboard and Hammond organ, and drummer Toby Ferguson spices things up with some eclectic rhythms, but no single member of the band takes control of the album, much to the benefit of the whole. Unlike many jazz-rock albums, Isadore is not “all guitar.” Instead, it is the musical equivalent of watching a basketball team execute a perfect full-court press. Such a maneuver requires the participation and cooperation of all five men on the court, and What Just Happened uses its five-man lineup to similar effect. Which is pretty much the way it ought to be all the time. It’s always a pleasure to hear great musicians, but an even greater pleasure to listen to great musicians who actually listen to each other.