My favorite rock album of 2006 was by the New England collective The Beatings, whose sweet-tart invocation of the greats of Boston’s postpunk history (The Pixies, Sonic Youth, Mission of Burma) on Holding Onto Hand Grenades struck me as much more than just attribute to their influences.
In the wake of the release of Holding Onto Hand Grenades, Beatings guitarist E.R. (aka the improbably named Eldridge Rodriguez) kept going, writing and recording his own stuff under his own name, finally releasing in late February of this year an album of his own, The Conspiracy Against Us.
Many of the songs on Rodriguez’ album could fit comfortably on a Beatings record, but where the band as a whole tended toward tense, rigorous arrangements featuring loud and layered guitars, Rodriguez alone is much more relaxed, at times a little more acoustic, and in a welcome way, weirder. He’s still comfortably within the basic genre definition of “indie rock” or “postpunk” or whatever, but he sounds like he’s having a ball.
What do I mean by “weirder?” Well, for example, although the Beatings have a nice way with a hook, I can’t imagine a Beatings song featuring hand claps, ‘sha-la-la’ backing vocals, or a cheerleader chorus bleating “a-c-t-i-o-n, action, action, we want action” underneath the big hook. But there they are, the female chorus on “You Get What You Want,” adding a winsome dimension to what’s already a hooky modern rock song.
And I can’t imagine, well, anybody with the courage to write a Bowie song and record it in a Bowie voice like Rodriguez does on “Black History Month.” Yet, there it is in the middle of what, by rights, ought to be a mildly interesting set of songs by one member of a not-famous-quite-yet rock quartet. The Conspiracy Against Us is full of songs like this, quirky enough to stand out, but strong and restrained enough not to just be irritating, cutesy or precious.
The Conspiracy Against Us probably isn’t going to win any awards, and probably isn’t (such a crime!) going to break huge and move a million units at retail. But Eldridge Rodriguez has made a very impressive, accomplished and most of all interesting debut album, and that’s good news for the future.