Thursday, December 13, 2007

In 1843, Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote Either/Or -a book in which he attempts to answer the big question - the Aristotelian question, of “How should we live?’. In a wildly inaccurate and reductive synopsis, his argument goes a little something like this.

We go through stages in life. The first stage is the “aesthetic” – wine, sex, and sports cars. Eventually, such a life leads to existential despair. If things work out, and we don't get stuck doing keg stands with Peter Pan and the rest of the Lost Boys for the remainder of our lives, we make the leap to the “ethical” mode - commitment and consideration of moral responsibility. Finally, for Kierkegaard, we move past the aesthetic and the ethical to enter what he termed the “religious” mode - someone who in the face of absurdity keeps faith in themselves and a higher power.

Tim Pak and Sean Madigan Hoen’s latest album, Killed Our Darlings, is the soul weary cry of all those stuck between the aesthetic and ethical – people hanging between two worlds, legs and arms stretched in an X as they try desperately try to hold onto the past as the next stage of life pulls them inevitably, inescapable forward, not understanding that stages are neither beginnings or endings.

Unless you’ve misspent your youth and fret time as much I have, those names may not mean anything to you. But Killed Our Darlings brings together two fantastic Midwestern songwriters from different generations. Sean Madigan Hoen is the former front man of the critically adored avant hardcore band Thoughts of Ionesco (and as a side note, Hoen's atmospheric first full-length album The Liquor Witch came out this year and as very listenable). Tim Pak, played in the 1980s punk band Angry Red Planet. I remember listening to Gawker's Paradise in someone’s basement, not realizing that they had broken up years before and thinking that must be huge stars -- their sound was that affecting.

They weren’t and they didn’t and now they're gone. But Pak remains, starting Woodshed Studio in the early 1990s, and helping to fan the flames for the Detroit underground music scene eventually playing live again in the early 2000s with the rootsy Salt Miners.

Killed Our Darlings, a split CD, starts off by showing off Pak's interest in roots music. The first track, "Going for Broke" showcases Pak’s vocal skills. For all he's seen, his voice is mature, but not world weary. He uses it for effect, to set the tone for his story here of Vegas with lyrics about old ladies in wheelchairs, combining stories of 21st century decadence with 19th century musical tropes. Even with the Disneyfication, Las Vegas remains an American image stuffed full of significance just as powerful as NYC or LA. In this number, Pak seems to be singing of the off the Strip casinos - the low rent ones ones where Keno is replaced with a waitress telling you, "I'm thinking of a number..." In "Going for Broke", redemption is found only in a Blakian level of excess – it’s only buy embracing risk that one is allowed to receive some sort of epiphany or redemption. That seems to be Pak's theory through out the who of his side of the album.

There are weak spots as well. Covers, although fun, take a lot of chutzpah especially when you're choosing a sacred Americana standards like "Lost Highway". Here Pak doesn't sound the clear eyed exhaustion that I’ve com to associate with the song – it sounds like he’s enjoying the ride a little too much to wind up dead in back seat.

Similarly, "Good Night Irene" is a clear eyed take on a much abused song. The backing vocals are lovely, but, overall, it lacks the heavy level of menace that the song needs. To most people who haven’t listened to "Good Night Irene", or have images of barbershop quartets singing away it seems like the sort of thing that should show up in a Capra movie ala “Buffalo Girls”, however it’s really the tale of a suicidal rejected love with nods given to morphine and (possibly) underage girls. However, to be fair, Pak's stylistic take on it is worthy of to be the last song at closing time at the honkey tonk that exists on only in the minds of roots-rook aficionados.

On the second half of the album, Sean Madigan Hoen takes an almost 180 turn away from the first five songs of Tim Pak (and a big step away from the sound of Thoughts of Ionesco). He creates a very approachable, glossy sound compared to Pak’s more stripped down production.

Ironically, it’s in the song the two perform together, a cover of Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane" where the promise of the two individual talents come together in full bloom. Their imagination and skill is showcased by the moment the claw hammer banjo meets the more soaring guitar sound at the beginning. That track, the last, leaves the listener longing to hear more of these two playing together. It's fascinating to see two artists who don't feel hemmed in by their past success, who are willing to take risks with their sound and brand in order to continue growing rather than resting on their laurels. "Killed Our Darlings" is recommended and the live show this weekend shouldn't be missed

Tim Pak and Sean Madigan Hoen along with Venango County’s The Old Hats, plays Seneca’s Brother Bean (2803 SR 257, Seneca, PA 16346 814-677-0232) Saturday Dec. 15th at 7 pm – no cover, but allow me to suggest the fine mint tea.

Buy (and stream) Killed our Darlings at CD baby
Buy (and stream) the Liquor Witch at CD baby

Speaking of Jerome Wincek and the Old Hats, they play Franklin's Summer House Coffee ((814) 432-5959. 1236 Liberty St Franklin, PA 16323 ) tonight (Friday, Dec 14th) at 7 pm. No cover, but buy some coffee, OK?

The Erie Times News takes a look at Shotgun Jubillee - the band that rose from the ashes of the Yankee Zydeco Company.

Anti Flag plays an all ages Erie Show on Monday with the Code, Bomb the Music Industry, and Frank Lloyd Hype at 6 p.m. at Perry Hi-Way Hose Company (8270 Peach St., Erie PA) $15

British fantasy and science fiction author Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's.

What makes a good literary prize judge?

Yale University on Tuesday launched its free, online archive of popular undergraduate courses — including not only syllabi, problem sets and course materials, but videos and audio files of the lectures themselves.

The FCC has shut down the low-wattage radio experiment "Sounds You Never Hear."

Gypsy Dave and the Stumpjumpers along with the Tiger Maple String Band play tonight at Pat's Edinboro Hotel at 6 p.m.

A student photographer chronicles finals week at SRU

Ike Turner has died.

Will Sheff of Okkervil River is sharing a collection of cover songs via the band's message board.

Did someone say more free and legal music? Well...OK. Here's Yo La Tengo from this Halloween.

It's never too late to pick up a 1983 OC Xmas ornamament.

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