From the ashes of The Matches came Maniac, igniting like a wildfire of creativity. (Yay, wordplay!)
When I drove from LA to San Francisco for The Matches’ final concert at the Fillmore in August 2009, it was not without a heavy heart. I spent more hours then I can remember listening to the band’s infectiously quirky alternative-pop-punk music since around 2002. I had seen them play in tiny, sweat-soaked community centers in suburbia and on various Warped Tour stages. I frequented their semi-routine L3 (Live, Loud & Local) shows at now-defunct iMusicast (r.i.p.) in Oakland, where teens of all ages and appearances gathered and tore the roof off the place. The band grew from local East Bay suburban punks inspired by the likes of Green Day and Rancid to a globe-trotting band on Epitaph Records.
After their energetic and infectious debut album E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals (released in 2004 on Epitaph), they experienced some success on various national (and international) tours and released their follow-up album Decomposer in 2006. That album didn’t seem to make them as popular as it should have, and its follow-up A Band in Hope was released with even less fanfare in 2008.
Personally, I blame Epitaph for not doing enough to push the band on the masses, and as a result their edgy, super-creative music that was a breath of fresh air to me and many other fans wasn’t appreciated as it should. They went on official “hiatus” in 2009 after that Fillmore show, and it is undecided if they’ll ever do a reunion gig.
Since that time, lead singer Shawn Harris and lead guitarist Jon Devoto have embarked on new projects: Devoto with his own band Bird by Bird, and Harris with Maniac, a two-piece thing featuring himself and Australian musician Jake Grigg (of the band Something with Numbers). Before releasing their new EP, Harris and Grigg maintained (and still maintain) a video blog where they cover current Billboard hits, indie-style. Sweet.
When I first saw the promo pictures for Maniac, I was frightened: the colors and oddness somewhat looked like an MGMT-ish experiment, and I failed to purchase their debut EP Extended Play until this week.
And damn, I’m glad I finally got around to it.
Die Rad is an offbeat, horn-filled number that opens the collection, and it has a sleazy swagger that makes the duo’s presence known. There’s a lot of noisy orchestration and vocal hooks going on at the same time, and it all adds up to a raucous introduction to the musical stylings of Harris & Grigg. Check out the song's music video here to get a taste.
Always is a Promise has more conventional song structure, beginning with some strings and guitar strumming that is similar to the kinds of chords the Matches tended to use on their recordings. It sounds like both Harris and Grigg split singing duties, sometimes accentuating each other’s voices. This song sounds tailor-made for an indie romantic comedy-type movie, but definitely one that is chock full of quirk. Think something like (500) Days of Summer. We’re talking some Zooey Deschanel-like quirk, including the googly eyes and contorted deadpan facial expressions.
Hey Love throws more styles into the mix, led by a piano rhythm and some loud group vocals by what sounds like a large chorus of voices. The refrain of “hey love, take what you want…don’t make a stranger of meee” repeated over and over makes it quite infectious, that’s for damn sure.
Still MORE infectious is Fill the Lens. The song, which begins with what sounds like a campfire singalong, is the kind of song we all want to make but can't because we're not good at music. Maniac doesn't have that problem. There’s some scattered chattering and laughter going on before the voices start chant-singing, until a folky guitar riff jacks things up and the real ear candy takes over. Another group singalong, this time “fill the lens with all your friends oh - now is foreverrrr” has been in my head for the last three days straight. I’ve found myself humming the tune, singing it in my head, and just generally heard it everywhere I’ve gone. If my ears could smile, they’d have already tired out their ear-face muscles with excessive smilage. That’s how awesome this tune is, and that’s BEFORE the xylophone solo in the middle. The chorus repeats a few times until the song finally comes to an end, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself clicking “back” on your MP3 player of choice, as I have frequently already.
The final track, Crowded Lonely World, is yet another change of pace. It sounds like a barber shop quartet, with echoing vocals acapella style. It’s just voices and finger snaps and a great Beach Boys vibe. I thought Maniac had maxed out all the possible melodies ever on the first few tracks on the EP, but this one uses even more delicious harmonies. By the time it ended, I was sad there were only 5 tracks on this.
Simply put, I was blown away by this EP. I honestly wasn’t expecting much from the post-Matches bands, as I had always thought their best stuff came from their group efforts…but after hearing this EP I’m convinced Shawn and Jake have a great future for the group. I hope this continues and they release more music, as this 5-song teaser is just incredibly creative and quirky, all qualities I enjoy in my music.
I’ll be reviewing the Bird by Bird EP Albatross, which was also released this past week, soon.
Give Maniac a listen if you ever saw and liked the Matches on Warped Tour, or any of their great music videos or songs.
The music world could use more cool stuff like this.