Gospel Claws: C-L-A-W-S
Gospel Claws are a local band (Tempe, I've been told) that is currently enjoying a little bit of national exposure, residing in a reasonably high position on some relatively obscure indie-rock-tallying chart. I'm glad somebody's listening because their debut record, C-L-A-W-S, offers a lot to like -- not the least of which is track number two, a song called "Summer Nights Lakeside." It's a tune I like so much that I'll be putting it on the short list of my favorite songs of the year (according to my iTunes, I've listened to 2,290 songs this year, and there's still eight more weeks of Nothing Not New to go).
"Summer Nights Lakeside" seems to be an effortlessly rendered paean to rallying friends for a night of hanging out, drinking, and playing rock 'n' roll. These guys really nail it with such evocative lines as "I brought my tent and some cheap American beer in case you wanna spend the night" and, even better, "We can set up on the beach because loud is how we like to play." And musically, on this song, the fivesome melds the trendy sounds of bands like Beach House and Morning Benders with the timelessly primal thump 'n' strum of Mo Tucker and Lou Reed.
But it's the other lyrics, and the casually sad way they're delivered, that make this song what it is, an acknowledgement of the powerlessness and sense of defeat felt by over-educated, under-employed, early-20-something dudes in the 21st century, presumably like the guys in Gospel Claws and their ilk.
The song's oft-repeated and seemingly carefree opening line, "No worries, no school, it's summertime" is juxtaposed with the exceedingly dark first line (sung twice and revisited later in the song) of the first verse: "If you take me down to the lake, I'll drown you if you ask me to." As desperate young men in the early 21st century, will they go to extremes (even if that means an act that inflicts pain and suffering) to get something, anything -- from our employers, from women, from an increasingly fractured and extremist society?
Though still young, these guys are men, and men tend to want to fix things -- including their women's problems -- by taking control of situations. In "Summer Nights Lakeside," the narrator desperately wants to be in control but knows he can't do a damn thing about it. He's so neutered, he'd even consider offing his gal if she wanted. For Gospel Claws, it's easier to accept the "no worries, it's summertime" mantra than be a man in today's society. The Minutemen put it best in 1984, "Maybe partying will help."
In classic, American male, I-can-fix-this-situation fashion, they sing later in the verse, "I know you're sad and you wanna die, but I know I can change your mind," before painfully accepting their helplessness in this scenario, "Well, I can call our friends and they can bring the girls, they're only half an hour away." The narrator knows that only the girlfriends have the answer. Guys, with their hubris and big egos, are just gonna fuck things up worse than they already are -- because it happens all the time. The answer? Set up on the beach and make some drunken noise. In a go-nowhere economy with limited opportunities, living off Mom and Dad's insurance until age 26, it's an emasculating time to be a young man. Sure, it sucks, but "no worries, no school, it's summertime" makes living in 2010 a lot more palatable.
C-L-A-W-S is steeped in the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. To me, the lasting message from that classic record is Brian Wilson's explaining how he wasn't made for this world. With "Summer Nights Lakeside," I think Gospel Claws have tapped into that sentiment, not that they're geniuses or ahead of the times (as Wilson was in 1964) but that they are simply existing in an era that doesn't suit them.
Nothing else on C-L-A-W-S touches "Summer Nights Lakeside," but there are more far more high points (including "Need for Speed," which sounds like Jan & Dean on cough syrup, and "Avenues," a Velvets-meets-Surfer Blood mid-tempo tune) than low points. The record loses steam after 35 minutes, but it's a more-than-worthy entry in the catalog of local releases in 2010. And, it bears repeating, I'd put "Summer Nights Lakeside" up against almost any song I've heard this year.
Best song: "Summer Nights Lakeside"
Deja Vu: Snake! Snake! Snakes! If you told me S!S!S! and GC shared at least three members, I wouldn't be surprised.
I'd rather listen to: The Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime.
"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 41-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here. The "Nothing Not New" Archives