It was the wildest fantasy of music nerds come to life.
James Mercer of the Shins, Colin Meloy of the Decemberists and Corin Tucker formerly of Sleater-Kinney got together recently to form a supergroup called Echo Echo. Unfortunately, the band, not to be confused with the Santa Ana, CA, indie rockers of the same name, didn’t play any shows, or actually record any music together.
Mostly they just sat around on a couch looking bored in a skit called “Deuce Hotel” for IFC indie comedy program Portlandia.
Mercer says the idea of making music together never actually came up, even though the three were playing the parts of fictional band members.
“We never talked about it,” he tells Spinner while doing press in advance of the Shins’ fourth album, Port of Morrow, set for release on March 20.
“We kind of just got through it. It’s strange for us being filmed and stuff. We had fun hanging out and stuff, but we never talked about starting a band.”
In the skit, which is designed to parody too-cool boutique hotels like Portland’s Ace Hotel, main Portlandia characters Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (ex-Sleater-Kinney, and current lead guitarist-singer for Wild Flag) are hotel desk clerks who act like starstruck groupies when Echo Echo check in.
Unfortunately, things take a dark turn when the band’s rooms aren’t ready, which sends Armisen and Brownstein into a lobby-trashing rage complete with tables being overturned, a fake stag’s head getting torn apart and Brownstein swinging precariously over a fireplace while the band runs out of the building.
Still, even though “Echo Echo” didn’t actually talk about making music while they were together, Mercer hasn’t discounted the possibility. In fact, he’s pretty warm to the idea.
“I don’t know,” he starts. “See, now I’m starting to think about, we’ve got to do this…”
They just needs to stay out of bad hotels.
This story was originally published Jan. 27, 2012 on Spinner Canada (RIP).
1. The Decemberists The Crane Wife
2. The Dears Gang Of Losers
3. The Golden Dogs Big Eye Little Eye
4. Sam Roberts Chemical City
5. The Streets The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living
6. Meligrove Band Planets Conspire
7. My Brightest Diamond Bring Me The Workhorse
8. Tokyo Police Club A Lesson In Crime
9. Woven Hand Mosaic
10. CSS Cansei De Ser Sexy
When I looked at this list for the first time in seven years my immediate reaction was a reflexive “Oh God, I put them at #1?” Maybe it’s because nowadays I hunt for things more primordial than their dandy cravat rock, or maybe it’s because they’re a pillar act for Mumford And Sons fans, either way I’ve pretty much moved on from The Decemberists. Or at least I thought I did. While there’s still something undefinably cloying about them, there are some sublime moments on The Crane Wife. “When The War Came” is an unlikely companion to Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter, and “The Perfect Crime #2,” “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then),” and to a lesser extent, many of the other songs on the album exhibit a certain charming gallow’s humour. It’s not my #1 anymore, but it’s still probably a top tenner.
I’ve always loved The Dears as their particular brand of dark pop appeals to all my outsider sensibilities. Going back through Gang Of Losers I realized this album doesn’t contain any of my favourite Dears songs — those would be “Summer Of Protest,” “Expect The Worst/’Cos She’s A Tourist” and “Lost In The Plot” — but what the album lacks in peak resonance it makes up for with a sort of binding quality. It’s like a sonic affirmation for misfits — you’re weird, maybe a little awkward, off-putting and you know it, but you’re not alone… The Dears are with you — and these songs are the soundtrack to that feeling.
One of the great injustices in the world is that The Golden Dogs aren’t more popular. I’ve cooled a wee bit on Big Eye Little Eye — it’s probably no longer a #3 album for me — but they remain a band I’ll always be behind and one of the few bands I know have the potential to create the perfect song.
There’s a song on Sam Roberts’ Chemical City called “With A Bullet” which I consider one of the best rock ‘n’ roll love songs ever. It’s not particularly unique and the metaphors (“My love for you is as deep as a coal mine”) border on hammy, but there’s a certain genuineness about it that’s absolutely compelling. Roberts sometimes gets unfairly pigeonholed as a bit of a Tragically Hip/Kee To Bala/beer commercial rocker, and to be fair there is a bit of that to what he does, but Chemical City is more than that. There’s some pointed political commentary (“An American Draft Dodger In Thunder Bay”), some psychedelic space jams (“Mind Flood”) and some dreamy brilliant bits (“Mystified, Heavy”). I don’t know if it’s still a #4 album, but it’s definitely an underappreciated one in the Can-rock canon.
Ah, The Streets. This would be the year that I finally got Mike Skinner. It may have been the noise from the hipster set, or his awkward delivery, or my disconnect from his day-to-day world, but it wasn’t until The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living that I realized Skinner was, and is, a master of narrative. He captures a mood, a scene, a time and place perfectly. And his sense of mischief is alright, too.
I swore Meligrove Band were going to take over the world with Planets Conspire and I listened to this album non-stop when it came out. I was wrong. It turns out people didn’t really want the sort of smart rock-pop Meligrove Band… or Golden Dogs… or to a slightly lesser degree Sam Roberts and The Dears… were making this year. I have some theories why that is, but that’s a conversation that’s more for barrooms than blogs.
If I had to redo this Top Ten list today — which I’m sort of doing — the clear #1 would be My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse. Dramatic, beautiful, sad, unique, I still listen to the various songs from this album regularly. I’ve never read or researched much about its themes or the songs meanings. Instead I’ve spent all these years trying to piece them together myself. But I don’t try too hard. It’s more about imagining what the various songs are about rather than definitively figuring them out.
Nominally you could put Tokyo Police Club in that same group thematically as Meligrove Band and Golden Dogs. In hindsight it turns out I only like that robot song.
I’m not religious. Or particularly spiritual. And about the closest I get to either is the sort of admiration I have for acts like Woven Hand and its leader David Eugene Edwards as expressed through fiery intense songs like those found on Mosaic. Upon relistening to Mosaic it’s not really a Top Ten album. The idea of Edwards bellowing away his demons continues to hold a certain romance, though.
CSS? I still love “Art Bitch” and casually reference that song all the time, but it’s otherwise a forgotten album for me nowadays.