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"What did you expect?"

Prisonshake, Dirty Moons

Prisonshake's Dirty Moons saw its official release a few weeks ago, and I've gotten the chance to give the record a good six to eight listens so far.  Obvious first impression: this sucker's long (close to 80 minutes), not to mention dense. 

Usually when it takes forever for a band to get a record together, it's a sign that it's going to get dragged down to mediocrity by virtue of its intended grandiosity.  Thankfully, Robert Griffin, Doug Enkler & Co. know better.  When I say this is a dense record, I mean that there's a lot going on here, and it's going to take a lot of listens to get a handle on everything.  That's the mark of a good record, but it's also the mark of a challenging record, so don't expect this one to totally kick you on your ass the first listen or two.

Stylistically, Dirty Moons goes all over the place, but it gets there the right way.  Take side one for example (it's one of the best sides of a double-LP in recent memory).  Prisonshake lets you know you're listening to Prisonshake with "Fake Your Own Death," which is a sorta slow, scheming rocker that takes off a little over half way through, throwing guitar solos, abrupt sonic shifts, and wholly unexpected snippets in the mixer.  Just like Ma used to make, if Ma made I'm Really Fucked Now.  "I Will Comment," an instant classic 'Shake anthem (maybe think a slow, mature "Fall Right Down"?), follows and leads into the kick-ass "The Cut-Out Bin." Next comes a stellar reworking of "Dream Along," which some of you will recognize from its former incarnations about 10 years ago as "Dream King" on the Anyway Records songwriter CD compilation and "Dream Along With Me" from the "Fuck Your Self Esteem" 7" and which might represent the most legitimate example of Tender Rock, what with its plaintive piano outro and all.  Side One rounds out with "You're Obviously The One," maybe Prisonshake's first foray into powerpop, replete with a hearty serving of "ba ba ba ba"'s.  And that's it -- five songs, all a little different, yet somehow a cohesive whole that works.

Sides two and three are where the "density" really comes into play, especially with side two's extended Scissors Suite and the side three "Year of the Donk"/"Leftover Monkey" medley.  I'm guessing, though, that as time goes on it will be these two middle sides that might be the most continually rewarding, with their essentially symphonic movements.  The band reaches some nice heights on the instrumental interludes here.  We get a good share of trademark Griffin guitar dirty fireworks, but now the rest of the band gets to join in for a sort of more fully realized envisioning of what they were maybe trying to do with the extended "Sweat Like Candy."  

Before first listening, I was curious to hear what the band was going to do with some of the "old" songs that had made appearances in various forms during the mid/late 90's.  Pretty much unanimously, though, all the new versions are improvements over the originals.  "Dream Along" benefits from solid harmony vocals, "Crush Me" sounds a little more fully realized in a Roaring Third way, and "Fuck Your Self Esteem" comes off even more kickass than before.  "Leftover Monkey" sounds slower and more sinister and works as the meat in the "Year of the Donk" sandwich.

Prisonshake's still got their sense of humor, too.  No farts that I've heard yet, but Marty makes a reappearance on the intro to "The Cut-Out Bin."  And side two starts off with "Your Sad Friend."  Young and old alike have to marvel at Enkler crooning, "Well, bring your sad friend, if you must / maybe she'll dance / let's hope she don't get too drunk" lounge style with piano accompaniment.  In true old-school Cle fashion, there's also the sound of shit getting busted before "It Was A Very Good Year."

Other quick thoughts:  "Memo From Chambers" totally rocks.  I like the instrumentals (e.g. "Nowhere Near (Slight Return)" and "Janus").  This is a great sounding record -- all analog, never overproduced, and thoughtful in the sense that each song tends to have its own sound.  And did I mention this new Prisonshake powerpop rules?  "In Disguise" (this one's got handclaps) goes nicely with "You're Obviously The One."

Anyway, I'll stop rambling.  Quick summary: you'll get a lot of mileage out of this record.  Prisonshake still does whatever the hell it wants to really well.  And I know I keep making my fanboy references here, but this isn't an album that requires familiarity with the rest of the band's discography.  If you haven't gotten hip to Prisonshake yet, this is as good a place as any to start.  Buy the friggin thing from your local record store or order it from Scat.


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