The classic example is “Blinded By the Light” by Mannfred Man (with optional Earth Band), the song with the nearly indecipherable and slightly nasty-sounding line that follows the namesake refrain: “Wrapped up like a douche, another rubber-ender knife.” Or is it “another roper in the night?”
There’s a word for this phenomenon: mondegreen, meaning an often humorously misheard word or phrase in a popular song that lends extra color or flavor where none is actually intended. Other examples of mondegreens include the part in “Purple Haze” where Jimi Hendrix takes his leave to “kiss this guy” and the Creedence Clearwater Revival song where John Fogerty politely informs the listener that “There’s a bathroom on the right.” You probably have dozens of mondegreens in your musical consciousness without even knowing it. No offense.
I’m an avid collector of them. Which is only one of the reasons why I’m always glad to get a new Lenola album in the mail. They play shambling, warped pop with the unusual distinction of being perfectly suited for intense, up-close listening as well as backdrop listening—like sonic wallpaper for doing trigonometry homework or sorting out your junk drawer.
That absentminded, auto-pilot kind of listening is what never fails to bring in a bumper crop of new mondegreens. Cut-up strips of the bigger lyrical picture present themselves in strange ways. “College dances, iron tears ... yes, we’re going out tonight, to the farmer’s crystal ball, millions answer when we call. Czechs in the sauna light, glance in a waterfall, the fire’s emptied.” Is that what they’re really singing? It hardly matters. The vocals are buried so low in the mix, and in the absence of clear and forceful diction the ear has full license to hear what it wants. The brain seconds the motion and thus is born a new mondegreen.
But aside from the USRDA allowance of tainted food for thought that the lyrics provide, the music is a pure, effortless pleasure for any fan of shaggy pop—plenty of bent notes, pithy guitar solos where you don’t expect them, and a fine sense of melody that gets better with repeated listens. Locally, the Oblio Joes spring to mind as a kind of kindred band. If you’ve seen the Oblios at their freewheelingest and most unabashedly girly—and loved it—you’ve already got an appreciation for Lenola at their best.
The whole budget pop trip isn’t shockingly new, but Lenola’s version of it is comfortably damaged enough to give it plenty of distance from all noisy/melodic bands the band gets inevitably—an unfortunately—compared to. This band more than most, I notice, often gets singled out for the “[formerly famous indie band] meets [slightly obscure British pop act] and rips through the [influential ’60s pop group] songbook on acid” critical conceit game that damns many a fine act to a rootbound critical profile. And ultimately says not a damned thing about what the music actually sounds like. For shame, lazy critics, because no two strains of this kind of music are exactly alike—and Lenola is one of the sturdier hybrids out there.
Lenola plays Jay’s Upstairs Wednesday, Nov. 10. Cover TBA. Call 728-9915.