While my mother taught me everything I know about how to handle a man, my father taught me everything I know about . . . baseball. He never learned how to handle a woman because my mama wouldn’t have it! I had to learn that all by myself!
Dad imbued everything he taught me with social consciousness, so when we watched a film of Bill Mazeroski hitting the game-winning home run against the Yankees in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, he transformed it into a symbolic victory of the working class over the powerful moneyed interests headquartered in New York.
To me, it looked like Ralph Terry threw a fat one right into Mazeroski’s wheelhouse and Bill fucking crushed it, but I didn’t say anything. Dad went on to point out that Ralph Terry giving up that home run was an act that required the universe to balance the karma headed in Ralph Terry’s direction, and that’s why Ralph was able to throw another fat pitch to Willie McCovey but have it wind up in Bobby Richardson’s glove to end the Giants’ rally in the ninth inning of the ‘62 Series.
Sometimes it’s really hard being a child of a flower child.
But what does this have to do with music, you ask? Simple! Meeting of Important People (MOIP) is a band from Pittsburgh, and the only thing I know about Pittsburgh is Bill Mazeroski’s home run and the “We Are Family” team that won the ‘79 Series despite wearing uniforms that made them all look like bananas with legs. I’ve never had the good fortune to visit Pittsburgh, but my mother, who has been there, thinks it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the United States because of its architecture and natural setting. High praise from a very demanding French woman! She’s also a huge Warhol fan and that’s where Andy’s museum is located, in his hometown.
So, given my favorable feelings towards The City of Bridges, I was delighted to discover MOIP on iTunes in the New Releases section under Alternative in April 2013. Five seconds of research informed me that the album was originally released in August 2012 and re-released last month. MOIP has been described as garage, garage pop and indie rock. The truncated article on Wikipedia states, “The group cites The Kinks and The Who as some of their primary influences.” On their website, the band describes their approach as, “MOIP keeps the loud parts loud, the pretty parts pretty, and the people happy.” I think the latter description is the more accurate. My Ears are Having a Heart Attack is a combination of solid beat, pretty melodies and sensuous harmonies, and except for an occasional burst of over-the-top sweetness, I was very happy with the album.
“Innocents Abroad” opens the festivities and is the most intriguing piece of all. Opening with muffled guitar and a good, steady rhythm, Josh Verbanets’ lead vocal opens in a slightly jarring “What the hell is going on in my life?” tone but blends into an absolutely fascinating, wordless vocal pattern that imprints itself on your memory forever. The piece picks up in intensity and kicks into higher gear for a couple of passages, but always returns to that gorgeous vocal pattern. The arrangement combines surprise and continuity, as well as first-rate drum and bass performances from Matt Miller and Aaron Bubenheim. It’s also obvious that Josh Verbanets has an exceptional gift with flowing melodies that lend themselves perfectly to beautiful harmonies.
The next tune, “Gotta Clean Head” opens with simple acoustic strum, becoming a calypso-like number with a catchy melody and super background vocals adding spice to the mix. I love how the dynamics of the song change at unpredictable moments without ruining the sense of continuity. The song is a first-person account from someone who’s struggling to get with the program, and the lyrics reflect the struggle between personal confusion and clarity:
They told me I was lookin’ like hell
I was doing the things that you don’t do too well
They told me I was laughin’ through tears
Hadn’t been to a dentist appointment in years
They told me I was lying through teeth
I was telling the truth so that’s all news to me
You know me, I was looking for a fight
But I’m turning it over tonight.
The lyrics work astonishingly well with the melody, and the flow is enhanced by the shortening of the last line of the verse so that it merges beautifully with the chorus.
“Keep Your Eyes on Me” keeps the Caribbean feel while introducing electric guitar to make the song more of a flat out dance number. The track features another exceptional lead vocal from Josh Verbanets, and yeah, they know how to keep the loud parts loud! Again demonstrating their control of the dynamics of volume, and moving from semi-acoustic to blessed distortion, “Keep Your Eyes on Me” is a hand-clapping, foot-stomping delight.
It’s followed by the steady guitar mélange of “Oh, Will You Finally Go?” a song that balances an underlying intensity with a warm and expansive melody to create the strongest ballad on the album. I find myself amazed at the strength of the arrangements on this album; each piece works to enhance the song and rarely does MOIP engage in overkill. This subtlety is also demonstrated on “Old Folks,” a sort of Caribbean R&B number where they introduce a crunch guitar in the right channel that subtly grounds the mix in solid rock while foreshadowing the explosive, bash-filled ending passage. “Our Love” follows, a warm and sweet love song where the lyrics get a bit too melodramatic for me; still, I think the melody is strong and the vocal never reflects excessive sentimentality. “I Didn’t Mean It” is a more interesting take on relationships, for it deals with insecurity, family influences and the miscommunication that can get in the way of love.
Keeping the loud parts loud, “Feel It In Your Knees” is delivered in lo-fi punk style, allowing the band to let loose for a while and just frigging rock. The album proper ends with harmonic “As It Goes,” a song of lush voices harmonizing over a simple guitar pattern, joined by a touch of bass about midway through. A short piece of extraordinary beauty with subtle chord changes adding interest and diversity, “As It Goes” is one of the best harmonic pieces I’ve heard in years.
There are the inevitable bonus tracks, of course. “Jody, To Me Your Name Rhymes with Love” is the weakest, and the clearest example of excessive sweetness I mentioned at the beginning of the review. In this sense, Josh Verbanets is similar to McCartney during his Beatle years: even the master of melodic rock could get a bit too cute at times. Three other bonus tracks are acoustic versions of the songs on the album, and it’s rather nice to hear them in their stripped-down versions, because they’re all basically great songs. The final bonus track, “If You Come to My Funeral” is what Josh describes as a “fake folk song,” where he gives us a list of things to bring and not bring to his funeral, which I hope is decades away.
My Ears are Having a Heart Attack is an exceptionally strong record by a tight and talented indie band who deserve much more attention. They’ve given me another reason to put Pittsburgh on my future travels list, because I would really love to see them live in front of a hometown crowd.
Sorry, Mama, but Andy Warhol just wasn’t enough.