A glowing, balanced, and fair-minded review of Vacationist League's EP Unjust Intonations,
by Pete Swotato
I received a package in the mail today. It has only a return address-- no postage, no address. I'm not sure why I open it; the handwriting is familiar, Ellen is angry with me, and ever since the waffle iron incident I strive to live each day as if it were my last. It would be much easier to open this package if that damn Gang of 4 song would stop rattling my brain. "Love'll get you like a case of Anthrax / and that's something I don't want to catch." That's one damn straight sediment breath impediment sentiment... I relate though I'd rather not. Ellen's rattling pans in the kitchen, which is a joke, because she can't cook. She needs a recipe to whip cream-- every year at Thanksgiving she's frantically rushing around searching for her orange index card while her mom looks at me sympathetically and rolls her eyes. And should I forget to chill the bowl and beaters for her, she stomps to the freezer and digs way back for a 2-year old tub of Cool Whip, slams it down on the table next to the pumpkin pie and says "Sorry everyone, but I can't offer you any freshly prepared whipped cream today, Pete didn't chill my bowl and beaters." Then it's Christmas before my bowl and beaters get thawed, if you know what I mean. Anyway, she's probably looking for the extra coffee filters-- I thank God that she can at least make her own cup of coffee.
Inside the package is a flat clear plastic tombstone shaped clamshell CD case. Inside the flat clear plastic tombstone shaped clamshell CD case is the new EP CD titled Unjust Intonations by Vacationist League. I struggle mightily to exhume the CD, but I can't break the code. The chorus of a John Martyn song, titled "Dealer" begins coursing through my brain. "Let me in. Let me in. Let me in sweet darling. Let me in. Let me in." I feel both silly and desperate calling a CD "sweet darling," but I don't dwell on it. At long last I notice a small round button in the very center of the case, with four cryptic letters molded into the plastic, P, U, S, and H. These guys are tricky, no bout adoubt it.
I lay the CD, matte finish with black letters side up, in the player tray and press play. I never use the open/close button to close the CD, I always use the play button. If I weren't ready to listen to the CD, why would I be putting it in the machine? Of course, I'm still glad they put the open/close button on the machine, otherwise I'd never be able to get the CD back out, and I'd be stuck listening to the first thing I played when I bought the player. That'd be a real rut-maker. Ellen is eavesdropping on my conversation with myself, and asks me how I'd get that first CD in the player in the first place, without the open/close button. "Fix your coffee, Ellen." She's got a point, though.
My CD player is a top-of-the-line budget model. It has two bells, plus a whistle only dogs can hear. It has a small, rectangular LED display which tells you the number of the track you are listening to-- very handy feature for a reviewer! Right now I'm listening to track 1. It is very good; it is my favorite so far. The singer sings that he is a little helicopter, which I doubt, but still, it is a very good song. I always like a good song at the beginning of a CD. That Pink Floyd song with the helicopter stuff in it kicks ass, too, but it's not the first song. I think it is rare to have a helicopter song as the first song. Maybe it's because of the way they take-off-- straight up. Most rock music is runway based. Even the mighty Floyd had to build up to their helicopter moment. And XTC opened Drums and Wires with "Making Plans for Nigel," their helicopter song was later, too. These VL guys are bucking the trend! This helicopter song has some kind of solo from another planet-- I try to find out what instrument (or torture device) they use to make such a strange sounding solo, but when I call the number, the line is busy. At least I get a genuine busy signal, instead of some menu-driven voice mail nonsense. It's a good thing Chuck Berry wrote his song "Memphis," before operators were computers. "We-re sor-ry, that is not the correct area code for Mem-phis. If you would like to return to the cho-rus, press 1. For the bridge, press 2. For all other ver-ses, please check the key and time signatures and dial again."
From there the CD goes predictably to 2, then 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,and finally 8. White bread yawn. But don't be deceived by the numerical numbness of its sequential predictability; this CD is terrific! Musically and lyrically these guys are pumpernickel-- wry rye wit arisen.
If I had time to tell you more, I swear I would. However, Ellen comes into the room and smiles at me (thank you, coffee). She asks me to start the CD over and come sit beside her on the couch. She's got a certain look. Gives rise. I know that I'll live, at least for now, as we take-off, straight up, "spinning, spinning, spinning, in my little helicopter, knowing that it's good around the world."