Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Ergs- Dorkrockcorkrod (Whoa Oh Records, 2003)

To the best of my recollection, the most “contemporary” album I’ve ever reviewed for Dirty Sheets was Guitar Romantic by the Exploding Hearts. And that came out nine years ago. What’s my beef with modern music? I don’t know. If it’s an unwritten rule that the records we write about here should be ones we truly and deeply love, then it kind of makes sense that I’ve mostly stuck with older records. It takes time to really get to know an album. A relationship between man and music must be properly cultivated. Notoriously prone to rash judgments about music, I have been known to pan albums that I later loved. And I have been known to praise albums that I never listened to again. But if I’m reviewing it here, it might as well be written in stone. So then: in the year 2011, it seems safe to finally write about my favorite band of the 2000s, The Ergs.

South Amboy, New Jersey’s Ergs, in their eight-year career, put out two albums, several EPs, and over ten thousand singles. And while I’ll maintain that The Ergs did not hit their absolute peak until they recorded their final LP Upstairs/Downstairs, there’s one album I always reach for when I’m craving “classic Ergs”: 2003’s Dorkrockcorkrod. As a style of music, “pop-punk” is not exactly most people’s favorite. But if every pop-punk band sounded like The Ergs, it would be a different story. While the typical pop-punk band of their day was like a second-rate Screeching Weasel or a third-rate Ramones, The Ergs were more akin to The Descendents with jazz inflections, hardcore tendencies, comedic undercurrents, an air of geek chic, and a whiff of Jersey. Neither wimpy nor formulaic nor lyrically clichéd, the music of The Ergs proved that pop-punk could rock. And Dorkrockcorkrod is in my mind one of the landmark recordings in the history of the genre.

Individually, the members of The Ergs are among my favorite musicians of recent memory. Joe Keller (now killing it with the Night Birds) is still one of my two favorite bass players in punk rock. Mike Yannich, in my mind, is one of the most gifted pop songwriters of his generation. He’s also one hell of a drummer. And Jeff Schroeck is a truly brilliant guitarist. Yet somehow, with all that incredible talent, The Ergs managed to be even more than the sum of their parts! They were a true group- a dynamic and cohesive power trio who combined their complementary superpowers to create a singular force of awesomeness. Dorkrockcorkrod achieves a sound that all pop-punk groups should aspire to: powerful and aggressive, with guitars and drums pushed so high in the mix that you could close your eyes and swear the band was right there in the room with you. Credit must go to producer Chris “Gobo” Pierce for knowing how a punk rock record was supposed to sound. Equal credit must go to the band for its formidable chops and undeniable chemistry. With nods not just to The Descendents but also The Minutemen, Replacements, Black Flag, Husker Du, Green Day, Elvis Costello, and The Zombies, this is an album far removed from the banality of cookie cutter pop-punk. Rife with obscure pop culture references, smart-guy witticisms, rollercoaster tempo shifts, and Ginsu-sharp hooks, it’s an album that delights even after a hundred spins. I should know!

While The Ergs were far from creatively undemocratic (Schroeck and Keller both contributed songs to Dorkrockcorkrod), Yannich was no doubt the band’s “star”. When you think of The Ergs, you probably think of Mikey Erg and his “brokenhearted love songs”. On Dorkrockcorkrod he keeps ‘em coming, even as he pokes fun at himself for doing so. “Pray for Rain”, perhaps the greatest Ergs song ever, opens with these lines:

I'm so in love with you/
So I thought I'd try something new/
And write a silly song about just what your smile can do/
But it's just not working out/
And now I'm having my doubts/
It seems that broken hearted love songs are what I'm all about

Funny stuff for sure, but in typical Mikey Erg fashion it absolutely tears your heart out. In the same manner, songs like “Saturday Night Crap-O-Rama”, “Everything Falls Apart (And More)”, and “Most Violent Rap Group” channel one young man’s excruciating heartache into music that’s emotionally charged yet incredibly fun listen to. “Pray for Rain”, for all the anguish it unleashes, is an utterly triumphant number, and one of the all-time great tracks to air-drum to while you’re operating a motor vehicle. You just can’t help pumping your fist and shouting along to that chorus: “And I!/Could write you the perfect song!” You don’t want to wish relationship woes on anyone, but if there’s a silver lining to Mikey Erg’s bad luck in love circa the early 2000s, it would be brilliant songs like this one. And the album is full of them! In the liner notes, my old friend Lew Houston perfectly sums up the thematic scope of Dorkrockcorkrod: “This is an album about girls, and showers, and new beginnings, and globes, and vampires. That leaves 12 songs about girls. A concept of sorts. Not a very complex one, but one nonetheless.”

The songs on Dorkrockcorkrod that are not about girls are no less essential to the flow and feel of this pop-punk classic. Joe Keller’s “Extra Medium” is like a “Turn on the News” for the Internet generation (“Please don’t turn on the TV/Or open the paper/’Cause the chances of tragedy/Are now part of the weather”). Jeff Schroeck takes the mic for his contributions “Fish Bulb” and “I Feel Better Tonight”, switching things up with his blunt vocal delivery and provocatively vague lyrics. And leave it to the Ergs to go ultra-obscure in cover song selection, having a go at “Vampire Party” by the Paul Roessler/Mike Watt collaboration Crimony. As a whole, it’s hard to find fault with Dorkrockcorkrod – every detour into hardcore thrash or experimental jazz doubling back to snappy power pop (“Rod Argent”) or hard-charging melodic punk (“180 Degree Emotional Ollie”). The general vibe is fast and fun, but it’s the variety that carries the day. It’s as if your favorite early ‘80s “post-hardcore” group stepped out of the pages of Our Band Could Be Your Life, hopped a time machine to 2002, and decided to show the pop-punk scene what it had been missing. The Ergs would go on to make much more great music, and individually they’ve carried on in terrific bands like Black Wine and the aforementioned Night Birds. But Dorkrockcorkrod was something special, and will likely forever remain my favorite thing that any of these three men have ever played on. Has it really been eight years? Damn!

-Josh Rutledge


Shawn Abnoxious said...

Time flys in the fascist pig empire. Yes, 8 years... maybe i been reading too much Hunter S Thompson...

gunther said...

I still think "Vampire Party" sounds like a Figgs song. Speaking of whom, I found For EP Fans Only in the 2-for-$5 bin this past Sunday. Way cool.

Rutledge said...

I'm pretty sure The Ergs were Figgs fans. Love that EP, Gunny. You got yourself a steal on that one!

Rutledge said...

You are all too correct, Shawn. I'm pretty sure Dick Cheney sped up time.

gunther said...

Too bad SST turned into an outlet for Greg Ginn's noodle-jazz excursions. During the productive era, it was one of the all-time great labels.

Rutledge said...

Yeah, SST should have just gone away circa 1990. But in its heyday...WOW.