Vinyl Vlog 280

Vinyl Vlog 280

Monday, 27 November 2017

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Tales From The Megaplex LP by Count Vaseline.

It might seem difficult to understand for those who have never heard his music before, but Stefan “Count Vaseline” Murphy is the definition of “timeless, ageless hipster cool” and he proves it on his third album, Tales From The Megaplex. Throughout the album’s eight cuts (seven originals and one Ween cover), Murphy deadpans and comically monotones his way along against a backdrop of Brit-Pop and indie punk – but the results actually defy easy dismissal because the auteur has the brilliant audacity to not let himself get easily pinned down or pigeonholed; Murphy only plays with the sounds he utilizes to construct his songs, he doesn’t love them – and listeners get left with the impression that he’d lay it all down without a second thought and just start from scratch if the urge struck him. Some might find that sort of cavalier attitude relationship between an artist and his muse off-putting (most music fans like to believe that artists embody or exemplify the spirit and mind of their work), but Megaplex is still able to win plenty of fans because the sound and style of the songs was clearly honed and refined relentlessly before record was pressed to capture it. Simply said, Stefan Murphy might just be so good that he can change on a dime if he wants, but (if only for the moment) he owns this sound and will play it like his life depends on it – if only until he gets bored and decides to change it up.

As the album opens, its title track tells everyone listening most of what they need to know about Tales From The Megaplex right off and in no uncertain terms. There, Murphy lifts some lean but mean guitars from the Classic Rock yard sale (complete with shades of the Rolling Stones, Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre) and pushes them along in a manner which sounds like it might be the best tune Keith Richards never wrote. Every element within the song has been perfectly manicured to present that kind of image, but the real hook for many listeners comes along with Murphy’s flat-out refusal to keep true to Stones-y songwriting and homing in more closely on a New York punk tip which both sends the music careening off into uncertain and unknown directions as well as getting listeners to turn the volume up and listen that much more closely.After that happens, listeners will realize that the lyrics are actually closer to a comment on rock n’ roll than anything else (check out the perfectly ridiculous nature of lines like, “my brain feels like the ‘I live Santa’/ Well how does ‘I like Santa’ feel/ Does the Megaplex have feelings/ Are those feelings really real?”), and that almost ridiculous, critical angle is the hook which will start dragging listeners through the album; they’ll get that it’s stupid, but it’s presented so earnestly that listeners will want to see where it goes.What they’ll soon find is that the song doesn’t really go anywhere (for a minute and a half, it just runs some half-baked lyrics and some very familiar-sounding rhythm figures before crashing to a close), but it does such a fantastic job of trying to win listeners over that even the uncertain ones will follow along for a lark. The movement isn’t one of self-actualization exactly, but it’s pretty close.

As the A-side continues, it examines some age-old cliches (the rivalry between Lou Reed and John Cale in “Hail Hail John Cale” – although apes a more ‘New York’ accent for his vocal performance), and sees the singer knock through one of the sillier tracks in Ween’s songbook (“I’ll Be Your Johnny On The Spot”) before switching accents for a laugh on “Texas Band” to close the side. The A-side is, needless to say, a whirlwind; at only four songs, some critics may complain that it jumps too far in too many directions with too small a number of songs but, for those who like their music complete with a bit of commentary on music, the side isn’t long enough to get daunting and so has them excitedly hoping for more when they flip the record over. On the right day, it can feel like just what the doctor ordered.

After they excitedly flip Tales From The Megaplex over, listeners will find that while the root of the music hasn’t changed, the overall effect of it gets progressively lighter as it makes its way along. First, Murphy digs as deep down into his vocal register and adds a droning keyboard to the mix for “Heavy Is The Head That Wears The Crown” and touches on some truly stoned, rockist angles before leaping to a more dozy, Doors-y tack for “Song For Tom” and then losing himself in some thuddy, Iggy Pop-esque new wave (the similarity to “Real Wild Child” is very striking) on “What’s Your Name, Where Are You From, What Are You On?” and then and then building up those drone-y synths for an epic climax called “Town Of Horseheads” to close the side. In that end, Murphy seeks to either combine or condense all of the elements which characterized different songs throughout the album’s running and present them all in one glittering monster (two-and-a-half-minute) opus, thereby connecting all the dots and cinching the album to a terminus. It sort of works, but feels just a hair too convenient – particularly given that the album revelled in challenging listeners with unusual angles to well-known ideas elsewhere.

So, while its’ end is not what anyone would mistake for graceful, “Town Of Horseheads” proves not to derail an album which was otherwise challenging, funny and absorbing. Other than how it ends, it’s easy to spin through Tales From The Megaplex repeatedly; it’s not perfect but gives up enough promise that those who hear this album will be obliged to hear if the last dents were hammered out of the design of Tales From The Megaplex on Count Vaseline’s next release. [Bill Adams]


The Tales From The Megaplex LP is out now on Saustex Records. Buy it here on Amazon.

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