Fisher Meehan must have wondered what would have happened if Jeff Lynne had set out to make early ’90s Seattle sound like mid-’60s Liverpool.
MTN CTY JNK, the big-indie-label debut from Fisher and crackerjack band DrugMoney, takes 1990s West Coast alt-rock and gooses it with heavy orchestral pop a la Lynne’s Fab Four-fixated ELO. What results is a dizzy, deliciously messy amalgam that’s positively bursting at its noisy seams with hooks. It’s a big-rock-candy sound, with sugary gobs of studio confection slathered atop a bedrock of grunge-and-lightning six-string crunch.
Power pop? Hardly. File this one under exploding pop.
On many songs, MTN CTY JNK boasts the expanded version of DM officially formed only last fall, after initial album sessions with co-producer Wharton Tiers (Helmet, Sonic Youth) were already in the can; Fisher is now backed by Asheville heavyweights Bill Reynolds (bass), Tyler Ramsey (keyboards, pedal steel) and Jamie Stirling (drums).
And even though the album keeps the disheveled songwriter’s sludge-and-steel riffing and blast-furnace vocals in the forefront, Fisher and Co. have crafted a sonic universe that’s nonetheless likely to prove foreign to the previously converted. (There’s precious little of DM’s shambly, self-mythologizing “smokin’ dope and f••king” live-show ethos in evidence, though the song “Rough & Tumble” does throw the faithful a bone with its “What the f••k is wrong lately?” refrain).
With MTN CTY JNK — which Hybrid Recordings will officially release on Tuesday, Jan. 27 — DrugMoney has bigger audiences to fry.
As a guitarist, Fisher favors sweeping drone-symphonics — the very sound that, in the early ’90s, made it seem as if Nirvana had reinvented the wheel. Except that Fisher likes to charge up from that grungy-power-chord bottom; his single-note runs at the melody, augmented by pinging harmonics, varnish even the heaviest songs with a frothy pop veneer.
But MTN CTY JNK‘s West Coast trappings extend more than six strings deep. Witness the radioed-up, shout-along DM staple “Oregon Song”; the one-two Mudhoney-esque guitar punch on “Wish Away”; Fisher’s St. Cobain-like vocals, as if sand, nails and busted glass were simultaneously shot from a cannon; the roller-coaster Nevermind dynamics of “Stars” and “Small Thinking”; and the studio-distorted intro vocals on “Rough & Tumble,” reminiscent of Chris Cornell’s on Soundgarden’s 1994 grunge-pop “Black Hole Sun.”
A mere year ago, MTN CTY JNK‘s standout tracks would not have been mistaken for DM songs at all: the pure pop of the paired cuts “Always/Never” and “Anyway,” the latter flecked with Eastern-flavored guitar fills and sweeping orchestral drone, framing Fisher’s surprisingly naked singing; the almost guitarless “D.M.D.,” its burbling synth dipping into high-gloss, minor-key melancholia; the raucous “Trenton Makes,” its cartoonish “Hey, hey, all together!” chant framing spoken/rapped verses and sinewy classic-rock guitar leads.
But the real shocker is the aptly titled album-closer “Beautiful” — flavored like a country weeper, it’s a lost FM-radio treasure from the summer of ’75.
MTN CTY JNK stumbles only once: The stripped-down “Wish Away,” which comes closest to the bludgeoning, live DM sound that predated the band’s current lineup, here feels disjointed, even unfinished. Because ultimately, Fisher’s pedigreed pop weaknesses are what lift his gift above the din of lock-step alt-rock.
The stacked backing vocalizations on “Becoming” recall Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra circa 1977-78; the splashes of lead guitar on “Rough & Tumble” could have been lifted directly from George Harrison’s work with the Lynne-produced Traveling Wilburys; and the synthed symphonic sweep of “Small Thinking” goes straight to the source: Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles.
At 14 songs, MTN CTY JNK clocks in at just above 37 minutes. That’s less than the length of most old vinyl albums — a true anachronism in the age of 80-minute digital. On average, the songs wrap up in less than three minutes each, putting them in the ballpark of much radio-ready fare.
Because, at bottom, Fisher truly believes in the power of great pop.
As a songwriter, he may be most in line with Ryan Adams. Though many worlds apart musically, both are really less alt and more alchemist — refashioning sounds from other rock ‘n’ roll eras into something thrumming with the here and f••kin’ now.