Tough Nuts to Crack 

Are Very Special Forces geniuses or an inside joke? You decide.

It’s a tough nut to crack, this Very Special Forces CD. On the face of it, it’s a competent pastiche of different styles: “The Hand” is a frenetic wad of party rock shot through with the perfunctory guitar heroics. “Serial Monogamist” sounds like Weezer and the Foo Fighters, or maybe the Presidents of the United States of America, having a competition to see which band can do the better job of imitating the other’s songs. “Necroczar” practically puts a vintage Marilyn Manson square away with an almost comical facsimile of Mr. Look I’m So Scary’s dime-store goth posturing.

But that’s just the problem: it just seems too obvious. Judging from the company the players keep, they can’t possibly be doing this without tongues firmly planted in cheek. Guitarist Timothy Young also plays in Wayne Horvitz’s Zony Mash. Drummer Evan Schiller is an alumnus of Sadhappy—prime exemplars, along with Pure Joy, Flop and even the Young Fresh Fellows, of the Seattle tradition of thinking-man’s pop that predates many of the city’s better-known musical exports. Members of the band have performed and/or recorded with John Zorn, Bernie Worrell, Bill Frisell, Aiko Shimada and violinist Eyvind Kang. At the time of this writing, Young and Schiller were off in Italy performing in “some freaky jazzy avant-garde festival” with Kang and Mike Patton of Faith No More/ Mr. Bungle fame, who seems to have hidden his light for a long time under the bushel basket of crazy-West-Coast-energy-ball-type theatrics before owning up to some real talent. Or at least a little more talent for reinventing his post rap-rock image than red-spectacled Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin, last seen whacking the rock bishop in a dumb-as-dirt second coming of skate-rock pioneers Fang.

I digress, but what I mean is: No, this can’t possibly be as straightforward a release as it purports to be. The obvious reference that springs to mind is Ween and their spirited trashing of/tribute to country on 12 Golden Country Greats, an album that must have sounded like solid Nashville to anyone without a competent handle on English. Very Special Forces are vice-grip tight on the pop idioms they present here, but I can’t escape the feeling that they’re a good-natured bunch of guys pulling a good-naturedly disingenuous fast one on current FM fodder, or, as their press kit suggests, trying to subvert it by beating its earnest practitioners at their own game. There also exists the possibility that between them they’ve found the common language of simple pop and are seriously trying to speak it, but, like I said, judging from their past and present collaborations, in keeping with the language metaphor it sounds more like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda amusing themselves with a Spanish 101 textbook. Either way, it’s glorious.

So there you go. I’ve either handed them the ultimate insult or not so slyly ingratiated myself to their Long Joke on pop music. I want them to know I think they’re great. I also want them to know they’re not fooling me. Or maybe they just have.

Very Special Forces play Jay’s Upstairs on Wednesday, May 24 and the Ritz on Friday, May 26. Covers TBA.

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