Sunday, August 30, 2009

Number One Cup - an appreciation

The only way I am going to be productive, I've decided, is get to bed early and get up early before everyone else, and do things like blog entries first thing.

A few days ago, I woke up with a song by Number One Cup in my head. And I'm not completely sure why that happened. They were a Chicago band in the 1990s who put out a few pretty good albums and one amazing, should've-been-on-every-smart-critic's-year-end list album before breaking up. I came across them when a guy put their song "Dive Bomb" on a tape for me. It was sort of a Pavement-y, catchy simple sound with the hook coming from the way they used a keyboard with one of those whammy bars to bend the pitch. And they used it on every chorus to simulate the dive bomb effect. Since the sound was more whiney than catastrophic, it was pretty funny and made me think these guys have something going for themselves.

In 1999, I bought Number One Cup's album People People Why are We Fighting? which is a pretty brilliant album name (coming from Mick Jagger's comment at Altamont after the stabbing). I always forget it came out a year earlier and I always want to put it on my "Last great albums of the millennium" list, beside Olivia Tremor Control's Black Foliage (which never seems to get its due) and Neutral Milk Hotel's In an Aeroplane Over the Sea (which does). It was a purchase based on what I read on a press release about the band and it ended up being a smart buy. Their first two albums were mixed bags (as I'd find out when I worked my way backwards in the discography), but People really comes off as a strong diverse album. The songs all sound pretty different but they work together to create a complete project.

Three out of the four guys take turns singing lead. Drummer Michael Lenzi, who does a lot of it, has a voice like a cross between Big Dipper's Bill Goffrier and the Cure's Robert Smith. He sounds really tense on some songs which goes along with the loud power chords and simple but perfect one string leads ("Low Sparks"). After he gets you all riled up, Patrick O'Connell shifts vocal gears and calms things down (in "Ice Melts Around My Battery," for example). "Canada Disappears" is a two-minute piece that quietly rises up at the end of the first half of the album (I don't know if it appeared on vinyl, but this was the logical place for Side One to end). Later on, "Caught on the Crown," another soft, piano driven piece, emerges out of an extended coda of metallic noodling in the previous song, all low-register, haunting minor key vocals, providing a good contrast to the high vocals and counter melodies you just heard. The title track is a six-minute sound sculpture, for lack of a better word that begins with a rainstorm and piano meanderings and climaxes with some really loud sounds from a noise generator.

I think what put Number One Cup in my subconscious had to do with "Remote Control," my favorite song on the album. In it, Patrick sings in Michael's register over a simple three chord riff that gets overlaid with "doo doo doo" harmonies, a great countermelody and a vague lyric that could be the thoughts of a spy. (It has the "metallic noodling" coda mentioned above.) This is one of those times that proves how simplicity can be irresistible if it has the right amount of enthusiasm behind it.

I've always had this song figured as a cover and I'm in a new band that has a show coming up and our set is still coming together. So maybe I was thinking in my sleep that we should learn "Remote Control."

On September, 10, 2001 I wrote the band a letter which was returned a few weeks later. I tracked them down via email a little while later. They had disbanded by then, with some moving on to another band, Fire Show was the name.

Flydaddy Records released People People and they went under a few years later. So finding the album is probably impossible now. But it's worth the search. And if you see it on vinyl, somewhere let me know.

PS In searching for an image of the album cover I came across this, a rather back-handed after-the-fact shoutout to the band's second album, followed by a comment from Seth Kim-Cohen from the band.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.