An endless supply of true alternative rock
In October of last year, we lost a musical pioneer who many consider to be the father of alternative rock, Lou Reed. Hailing from an era where the vast majority of teenage record buyers were still consuming “boy loves girl” lyrical content, he and his band The Velvet Underground provided a truly alternative approach to songwriting and performing. Though seen at the time as a commercial flop (their debut album selling less than 350,000 units upon release), his deadpan vocals and gritty prose contributed in elevating rock to an art form, and went on to influence four generations of musicians and still counting.
Whether consciously or not, one such band that seems to have garnered influence and possesses many of those same prodigious qualities is Providence’s Six Star General. Their latest CD offering, Hair Supply is a concrete example of this trio’s ability to move effortlessly from post-psychedelic trippiness to hard metal authority, yet all the while remaining just esoteric enough to leave the listener intrigued. The band is made up of Kyle Jackson on guitar, Mark MacDougall on bass and vocals, and drummer Dan Ulmschneider. Though each of these gentlemen have incurred some health issues over the past year, which merely delayed the process of promoting Hair Supply, these generals are back in service and ready for action.
The disc opens with the ethereal “Christopher Walken,” a rhythmically driving, four-chord tour de force, that’s every bit as mysterious as its namesake. In a musical styling reminiscent of The Flaming Lips, and a stolid vocal delivery that evokes the aforementioned Reed, MacDougall presents the listener with beautifully disjointed poetry: “You walk in, Chris Walken claims he’s the king of New York… Milwaukee, Wisconsin will keep all the teachers away….Keep smoking, keep joking, it all evens out in the end.” Throughout, an angelic chorus subtly blankets the entire mix, culminating to a steep end, as the band-proper fades out.
The band changes course in the next track, the riotous “I Don’t Know Where We’re Going (But I know That It’s Not Good).” Kyle Jackson dials in his best Tony Iommi guitar-tone for this cautionary tale of inebriate excess. “Thrill your brain with alcohol, let me buy this round for you – You took too many shot glasses, so what are we gonna do… I don’t know where we’re going, but I know that it’s not good.”
One surprise on Hair Supply was Six Star General’s raucous rendition of Daniel Johnston’s “Life In Vain.” Done originally as an acoustic number, MacDougall and the boys transform a whiny, teenage angst-ridden song (featured last season in an episode of HBO’s original series “Girls”) into a catchy, palatable rocker, far better suited for national broadcast than its impotent original.
There is little wonder why Six Star General’s eight-song Hair Supply has been nominated for Alternative Album of the year. In fact, the only thing that has me scratching my head is one line in the band’s biography section of their website: “[Six Star General] make very little money from their music.” How can that possibly be true, considering the band regularly plays to packed houses in rooms throughout New England? It’s a disgrace and a scourge on the entire local music scene that talent this extraordinary goes relatively uncompensated for their efforts. I’ll have more to say on the overall topic in an upcoming article. But suffice it to say that Six Star General has earned their stripes over their past decade of creating absorbing alternative rock.