This is going to be a tough review for me to write because I grew up in San Francisco. It’s part of the genetic makeup of anyone who grew up in The City to hate the Los Angeles Fucking Dodgers. One of my earliest childhood memories is watching a game with my Dad on TV when I was three and shouting out, “Fucking Dodgers!” after the old man had repeated the phrase several times for my benefit.
So, to get past that innate prejudice and write a review about a band named after their fat and disgusting blue-bleeding long-time manager is an act of supreme self-discipline and commitment to the craft. I want credit, people!
It doesn’t stop there. The group is from Lawrence, Kansas. In my mind, Kansas is the place where they’ve already locked up all the female vaginas in chastity belts and where sex proceeds along the lines described in A Handmaid’s Tale. Kansas is the world center of right-wing evangelical loonies, so once again I had to overcome another personal prejudice and give the state credit for having an oasis of education and culture in the midst of the Bible Belt.
Ready for the review now?
Lasorda is not really a band but a project cooked up by a gentleman named Matt Pryor, formerly of the The Get Up Kids, who caused some stir in the 1995-2005 period. Since then, he’s explored other musical possibilities, one of which is Lasorda. He talked about his artistic aims in an interview with Modern Vinyl, “I had gotten really burned out with touring and even playing music. So, I had wanted to make a record with people that I knew, people that were really talented and fun to be around. My friends, you know.” He gathered together a group of musicians on the Lawrence scene and voilà, we have Lasorda.
The music on Lasorda is positively deceptive. My first impression of the overall style was “European Electronica Pop” but I discovered much more intelligence and edge in the lyrics than you usually get in EuroPop. The style and mood are best described by a line in one of the later tracks: “Music gently played by angels who misbehave.” There are no out-and-out kick-ass rockers and the tempo of the album lies generally in the temporal middle, but the songs still move. The overall sound also stays within a fairly consistent range, but when the band deviates from the norm it is very effective and dramatic. Suzannah Johannes sings most of the songs with a sexy, breathy voice that sounds alluringly innocent in contrast to the often vivid and sometimes emotionally raw lyrics; the combination is extraordinarily compelling. Most of the songs deal with relational or human disconnection, but somehow the album does not feel hopelessly dark. Although it is not a concept album, there is an exceptional sense of unity in the work.
In short, Lasorda is full of surprises under the surface, and surprises are so much more interesting than listening to boring predictable shit like Some Nights by Fun for the rest of your life. The concept is called depth, people! Lasorda is an outstanding album, accessible enough to hook the listener and deep enough to keep the listener engaged.
The album opens somewhat quietly with “The Age of Wonder,” a song that successfully expresses the innocence of wonder in both the lyrics and layers of shimmering music supported by a swaying rhythm. “Interlaid” definitely sounds like it belongs in a late night disco in Zurich, but the opening lines, “The character that you’ve become/wrapping ribbons ‘round your gun” hardly qualify the song as brainless dance music. Let me note here that my greatest disappointment with the album is a lack of a digital booklet containing the lyrics, for based on the snatches I was able to grasp, the lyrics are often quite powerful.
This is felt very strongly in the next song, “Basque on the Borderline,” where even after listening to it several times over sensitive headphones I could not get all the lyrics. In the first verse, you know the ending line, “calling tenderly as you poison me” must have a foundation earlier in the verse, but too many of the words are ambiguous and I hate making guesses about the content of someone’s poetry. I still like the song (and love the title), but wish I didn’t have to work so hard to appreciate it. Yes, I’ve heard there’s a vinyl version of the recording that may contain lyrics, but since Amanda Palmer proved that digital booklets can be just as artistic as classic 12” covers, there’s really no reason to devalue the download channel.
Bitching complete, let’s move on to “Fivefivefourtwo,” a song sung to a lover who has deceived the singer. This is a tight song where the lyrics are clearer and where the sentiments are unrestrained: “Tender though the thought may be of hobbling you at the knees.” This theme of bitter disappointment in love is continued in the curiously happy-sounding tune “Is There Any More to Lose?” The contradiction between the light music and intense story clearly expresses the fake nonchalance we usually display when someone has given us the shaft. This song blends nicely into “No Intent to Return,” featuring a dual vocal of growing intensity in a song that deals with (I think) a wounded soldier coming home to find fear and loathing. It’s a great track with a haunting background.
My favorite track on the album is “Of Little Faith,” featuring an imaginative and powerful arrangement. The song opens with simple piano chords and a soft vocal then explodes in the chorus with a synth that sounds like a mad bagpipe, then moves to some delightfully unexpected chord changes that shift the mood to a dark edginess before we return to the sweet solitude of the verse. It is a superb piece that I find intensely exciting every time I hear it.
“Of Little Faith” is followed by an incredibly catchy and singable Euro dance tune, “Echo in the Night,” which in turn is followed by the heavier “Sleep When You Are Dead,” featuring a male vocal and glimpses of the group’s kick-ass capability in the chorus. We then arrive at the quirkily arranged “Go On, Give Me the Bad News,” the best argument on the entire album for including a digital booklet:
You can plant a bad seed, sew it in a deep cut,
Tell me how I should bleed for both of us.
Shallow like an actress but deep enough to drown in,
The blood is on the mattress, caked on your skin.
Go on, give me the bad news
I need to be . . . to be abused.
The album ends with the eerie-sounding “His Laugh Is Lowe” and a sweet vocal from Suzannah that gives me the chills. This song also features a strong guitar solo in the middle passage before shifting to dual octave vocals that are exquisitely pleasant to the ear. I hated arriving at the end of this album. I wanted more!
It is obvious from listening to Lasorda that Matt Pryor, Suzannah Johannes, Dustin Kinsey and the other musicians who collaborated on this project are artists whose work deserves attention. I’m rather sad that Lasorda appears to be a one-time thing, but the consolation is that given their obvious passion for the music, we’ll hear from all of these artists in one form or another in the near future. I am also thankful for the musical geography lesson and promise to include Lawrence on my busy social schedule the next time I’m in Kansas City, one of my favorite places on the planet.