Names are important! Some bands end up with wretched ones because they try too hard, others because they try nowhere near hard enough. French Toast is name enough to put you off your breakfast, let alone the band that bears it, but let’s be charitable and assume that members were more preoccupied with coming up with good songs than good names. Also, it’s been suggested to me recently, and quite snidely at that, that the “provincial Missoula air” we’ve got out here might be taking its toll on our sense of irony. To which I would riposte that irony is a poor excuse for practically anything, but let’s move on, shall we?
The names that should concern music fans here, at any rate, are those of members Jerry Busher and James Canty. Both are formidably pedigreed veterans of the Washington, D.C. scene. Busher, who plays drums and electronics and provides vocals for French Toast’s six-song debut EP, Bugman, is a longtime drummer who played in Dischord Records-affiliated bands All Scars and Fidelity Jones. More recently, he went from being a Fugazi roadie to something of a mysterious fifth member, adding trumpet and additional percussion to certain songs as part of the live act. James Canty’s career is even more illustrious. The onetime drummer for the explosive Nation of Ulysses also served time in Slant 6 and, from 1995 to the band’s breakup in 2000, played guitar and keyboards with D.C. soul arrivistes the Make Up. There’s a good wedge of D.C. music history bound up in these two, and it shows in French Toast’s music.
Bugman, released last year by Arlington, Va.-based label Arrest Records (get it?), has that readily discernible D.C. something, but it’s hard to say exactly what it is that makes it sound so immediately familiar—and comforting. It takes a page or two from some of the shorter-lived bands that came on board Dischord after the breakup of flagship act Minor Threat, right around the time the often misunderstood and much-maligned “emo” genre was making its first stirrings. Bugman also calls to mind bands like Wire and Mission of Burma at times, with chimey guitars and simple beats urged along by hi-hat-happy, New Wave-sounding drums. Elsewhere there are more complicated guitar arrangements reminiscent of Olympia, Wash.’s Unwound. You can even hear a handful of catchy, syncopated Make Up moments, minus (thankfully!) the godawful mock-Situationist falsetto soul-screeching of former frontman Ian Svenonius.
Which is not to say that French Toast sounds like the sum total of bands Busher and Canty have been in before. We’re talking about just a six-song EP, for Pete’s sake—preliminary testing only. But what there is to hear on Bugman is really cool. It’s like six to grow on, and there’s bound to be a couple dozen more where those came from.