Review from Alban Murtishi:
Flying with The Original Milk Bottle: “Love and the Modern Machine”
I first met The Original Milk Bottle in college, in the heyday of the University of Connecticut’s underground punk scene. Boy were those parties something, especially for us pasty, bored suburbanites that grew up in cow-country Connecticut. Those punk parties were for the freaks and geeks of UConn who couldn’t get in anywhere else. Too hip for frats, and too aloof for studying over the weekends, we were refugees. So, when these parties started springing up on Facebook, we’d get some sketchy address of a home located in Nowhere and start hiking. We would tool along some dark back road of Storrs/Mansfield for a mile and a half in the cold until we finally arrived at some weirdos ranch-style rental home or reconverted-barn. They were always sparsely furnished, with dingy, beer-stained carpeting throughout the top floor of the home. The basements were always just concrete landings with red, rusting supporting poles that were often converted into something to grip onto when the moshing got out of hand.
Oh man, excuse my trip through memory lane. Why was any of that important, anyway? Because The Original Milk Bottle, and the other bands that sprung forth from those halcyon days, made trekking your skinny-ass across haunted-ass Connecticut worth it. And like those other bands, they’ve released material that’s evolved from those dingy basement days. The evolution shows: these are no longer kids cramming their talent between marathon study sessions and playing under the radar of UConn’s literal party police. TOMB’s newest record takes the soaring sound of their original EP, “milk,” and lifts it so much higher.
But first, some background.
Unlike the other bands from UConn’s “punk scene” (a term I should use lightly), TOMB were a class-act. While Dangerous Animals, Honch, Sloof and other contemporaries from that era would perform dressed up in whatever they woke up in that day, TOMB had the audacity to show up in suits.. I recall the first time I saw the band’s lead singer, Brian Richman, perform in one of those dingy basements I just exhaustively described. Richman wore a loosely buttoned white shirt and had his tie untied like he was some strung-out lounge singer. The rest of the band followed suit, no pun intended.
In their UConn days, TOMB would perform live versions of songs that would eventually end up on “milk.” Songs like “Chasing for a Good Time” and “Dogface” were so open-ended and jumpy. Lead guitar, Kyle Sealund’s freewheeling guitar licks evoked a bit of Jerry Garcia. The whole sound was kept together by the steady rhythm hand of Richman, and Dustin John Martin driving drum. These tunes were so jumpy, jivey and joyous that Richman would sometimes dance and sing his way into the audience. My only issue with “milk” was its lack of a solid bass sound. Everything felt too thin and airy without a strong bass presence to glue it altogether.
So, now we finally arrive at “Love and the Modern Machine,” a strong progression of what was started with “milk,” with hints of the band moving towards more complex arrangements and dynamic sounds.
Made apparent off of the first cut from the EP, Love and the Modern Machine is a much louder album. Everybody in the band sounds like they’re hitting, strumming and singing hard, hard, harder. And yet, the playing is also tighter, with the rhythm section really pulling TOMB’s flying sound closer to the ground.
“Baby I’m a Funeral” is a moshing, kickass song born for the live stage. The drums and rhythm guitar whip you back and forth as the aggressively alternates between chords. It’s also a good example of how TOMB’s song structure has become so much more dynamic since their UConn days, with their flying sound now descending and ascending as the song plays out. Where “Dogface” kept you high up in a tree looking down, “Baby, I’m a Funeral” and several other cuts from the album let the build up in intensity, come down during a bridge or chorus, only to come back up again.
“Bald and Staring at the Ceiling” finally brings the knob up on that much-needed bass sound. With Sealund taking over bass responsibilities, many of the tracks now have a thick undercurrent of bass that buoys the rest of the instruments. The snakey bass-sound of “Bald and Staring at the Ceiling” complements the syncopated guitar and drums and really fills the song. And then, halfway through, the song explodes into this funky, punky jam, with Richman’s emotive singing leading the cacophony. Sealund rides down the bass board disco-style, and Martin’s dancing cymbal-work makes you want to pick up your feet and dance. There’s something almost anthemic about the chorus’s lyrics, “Envy’s there, cut my hair, I don’t even care.” Something a lot of us angsty UConn punk refugees could get behind.
“Hairbraid Stranger” shows the band really slowing things down, with all the instruments sounding very far away. Except for Richman, who sounds like he’s almost singing right next to you. The sound change-up works in Richman’s favor, really pulling out the choking, emotive voice of the former lounge-singer. Sealund’s lead guitar work on this sounds like a mix between psychedelic and country, a better word for it may be cosmic. Despite the slow and quiet beginning, there are rumblings that something more raw is to come. The song builds up and up and up, and just when you think you’re flying with the band again, things come crashing down. For a brief moment, it sounds like the instruments themselves are falling down a large, echoing chasm. Somebody screams. And then... like that, you’re back with the band.
I’ve listened the EP’s of several UConn bands as they’ve figuratively (and literally) graduated from their school days. Many of them have worried me, however, for their lack of evolution, growth and maturity. Maybe, just maybe, they weren’t taking this music thing too seriously.
“Love and the Modern Machine,” gives me a lot of hope for TOMB. It’s a record that not only fills in the empty holes present in “milk,” but also builds new grounds for the band to work on. Their songs now change, they’re groovier and, from what I can pick out from the lyrics, they’re saying something. I quite frankly couldn’t tell you what anybody at UConn was singing about. And here, TOMB gives us lyrics to really bite into. “Peter and the Problem” is a real character-song, something straight out of The Kink’s songbook. And there’s something really poetic about the sparse lyrics of “Vantages,” where there’s a person who is on top of the world, but they can’t see anything.
I loved flying with TOMB during all of those hectic Friday and Saturday nights. I lost weight dancing my heart out to their lives tunes, and it’s delightful that the sound has translated to well into their second studio effort.
If this review got too personal, then just consider it an ode to a special time, a special place and a handful of special bands. “Love and the Modern Machine” is flying in the right direction.
released May 19, 2017
Brian Richman: Lead Vocals/Rhythm Guitar/Bass Guitar (on Peter and the Problem)/Lead Guitar (on Deerfield, VT)
Dustin Martin: Drums/Percussion
Kyle Sealund: Lead Guitar/Bass Guitar/Backing Vocals (Peter and the Problem)
Nina Maniscalco: Backing Vocals (Peter and the Problem)
Recorded and Mixed by Andrew Oedel at Ghost Hit Recording (ghosthitrecording.com
Cover art by Ethan Jeremias (ethanjeremias.com
) and Ariel Davis (arielrdavis.com
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