Articles > Articles & Reviews > 2010 Rocksposure Reviews
In late December I logged onto Science of Sound's website to see what was new with Rocksposure's favorite Madison indie label.
Front page, first line: inBOIL, a new solo album from Sleeping in the Aviary bassist Phil Mahlstadt coming out on ... Thanksgiving?
How did this happen? How did I miss a new release from one of my favorite Wisconsin artists? If only there was some kind of website devoted to finding and promoting under-the-radar ...
Oh, right. Shit.
I asked our pals at SOS for some mp3s so I could catch up, pronto. No dice -- not even SITA's own label can get a copy of this album without a hand-delivery from Mahlstadt. Said SOS head honchette and His & Her Vanities founder Terrin Riemer, "I don't think he has it available digitally anywhere, since part of the appeal of the album is its packaging." inBOIL's mySpace doesn't have any download links, any price information. You have to email Phil, follow his instructions, and wait.
A month goes by. Christmas, New Year's, the untimely death of Jay Reatard ... I forget I have this made-to-order package coming.
Then last week I find this in my mailbox:
I immediately called all my loved ones and checked for my cat. Everyone was accounted for. This was not a ransom note.
The case is cardboard, the binding duct tape, the liner notes photocopied from a spiral notebook, the envelope stapled construction paper with a hand-dandy checklist to kick-start my review. Each copy has its own unique handwritten title: mine is "Have a cool summer! <heart> Phil M.," perhaps a cheeky anachronistic dig at a critic wanting to review an album 2 months after the fact.
More than just part of the appeal, the packaging is part and parcel of the Sleeping in the Aviary/inBOIL musical method: crudely handcrafted with almost childlike abandon, witty, whimsical, playful, and kind of creepy. I don't know if your copy will look like mine, but for your sake I sure hope the songs are the same -- this is some of the best music to come out of the Sleeping in the Aviary camp.
Mahlstadt's personal brand of slightly deranged country-punk pop wouldn't have sounded out of place on a SITA album -- he even has SITA frontman Elliott Kozel playing drums and co-producing with bassist Kyle Sobczak. Like Kozel, Mahlstadt has a knack for finding love gone wrong in hilarious new places, although his touch is less aggressive and more resigned to failure. Your typical hungover troubadour might sing about his woman troubles from a bar stool at 2 AM. Mahlstadt would have to get out of bed first, which on "How Many Times?" sounds like no small feat, especially after "huffing gasoline" to wean himself off drugs and booze. "Hot Doggin's" view from that bed is drenched in nostalgia for "pajama spoonin', Sinatra croonin', sex-store lootin'" and watching "Reno 911" with a girl who left once the liquor kicked in.
This is all fun, pathetic, funny stuff, but Mahlstadt really distinguishes himself from his band proper on three overtly political masterpieces that survey the pillars of the current culture wars -- abortion, Iraq, and big business -- with black-comic irreverence and vicious satire. "I Miss the War" is as terrifying as anything the Sex Pistols ever recorded and as catchy as a Ramones tune, a PTS-wracked vet's wild-eyed withdrawal spasms as he craves more action, more violence, more desert sun, more free food. Next time I watch "The Hurt Locker" I'm cuing this up as the credits roll.
Even better -- and much less frightening -- is "Machines," a song Woody Guthrie might have written had he owned a small business in the age of Amazon and Netflix. "They don't need me anymore" sings Mahlstadt as his lazy, ugly ass is downsized from a video store, a supermarket, and then the mall -- "Machines, machines, they are ruining me, ruining the working man's dream." Mahlstadt can't even hold down his gig with inBOIL -- at the end of the song the "Mr. Brightside" robot replaces him on lead vocals. With the possible exception of "When the President Talks to God," "Machines" and "I Miss the War" trump every half-assed indie protest song and indulgent Bush-bashing rock opera littered across the last decade. And I voted for McCain.
"Bro-Choice" is more of a subversive lark. Mahlstadt's baby won't stop crying, which wakes up his girlfriend, which wakes up the dog, whose barking wakes the neighbors, who call the cops. Groans Mahlstadt, "I told her it was a mistake we shouldn't keep ... She didn't listen," a slide-trombone sounding punchlines to confuse the question of whether Mahlstadt really considers this situation a valid argument for Roe vs. Wade.
Mahlstadt's overall intentions are a bit more serious than that. Consider the final track, "On the Run," a car-crash cousin to SITA's "Windshield." Writing a letter home from life on the lam, Mahlstadt recounts how he jumped in his car after a drunken fight with his girlfriend, ran over a kid, and decided to just keep on driving. "I want to start a new life, but I haven't got that far," he sings, and how could he, sleeping in motels and "the evidence of my car."
For all the cracking wise and stoner sloth inBOIL mock-celebrate, Malhlstadt knows that over-indulging in the slacker lifestyle is really one long, empty flight from responsibility. Because when you don't man up and be a father, or clean yourself up and try a little harder at work, or peel yourself off the couch and FIND a job in the first place, or sober up, or hand in your M-16, then you're alone with your late night TV quips, fighting back violent urges with a bottle of Jack.
The best jokes hurt a little. inBOIL's damn near kill you.
6 Tacos. Easy.
To hear inBOIL and order your own copy: http://www.myspace.com/inboil
Joey Tayler is the lead writer on Rocksposure.com. Based out of Milwaukee, WI, he is always looking for a new show to see. If there is something you think he should be listening to, send him an email at JoeyT@Rocksposure.com