Album review: The 35 are a mystery that might not be worth solving
By Tony Bennett, For the News Tribune Today at 2:05 a.m.
Oftentimes, bands will submit material for consideration in this column that are, if not completely unknown, then unknown to most people the members of the band are not related to by blood or marriage. Truth be told, these albums are often the most fun to delve into. No press hype, no scene reputation preceding them, just an album popping out of the void, asking to be judged, maybe even validated.
This week, it's a record by a group called The 35. Their Facebook page says that they're "the Midwest's most misunderstood band." Try as you might, no Google search reveals how the group came to feel that way about themselves. Actually, no Google search reveals anything at all about the band, really (including where in the Midwest they come from). No evidence of understanding—or a lack of it—on anyone's part. Maybe they're misunderstood because they understand themselves to be highly visible, and they are, in fact, not.
Already, this is more fun than reading the nine millionth bio about a band that says they're the greatest thing since the hamburger sandwich.
Other than a few posts announcing the two albums they've now released this year (their debut, "Erratic Markers," came out in January), the group's Facebook content is sparse. No band pics, even. If the group is trying to generate mystery around themselves, they are doing an excellent job. If they're not: oops.
Next stop: the group's official website. Things get even more intriguing, here. "Reveal The 35," a button says. Click it, and you get brief bios on the two current members and the one former member whose tenure in the group only lasted one album. No photos, again. What you can find, however, is a thorough—terrifyingly thorough—list of every piece of gear they used to record their latest opus, "Consider the Cage."
Here's a sampling of some of the information the band thinks you might be interested in knowing. One: "Sticks are ProMark American Hickory 7X7AW or ProMark Shira Kashi Oak PW5AW, as befits the tune." Two: "All electric guitars are voiced by either a Dr. Z M12 head/Z-Best cabinet or Carr Skylark. The Dr. Z rig signal journey begins with a JHS Little Black Buffer, Janglebox JB Nano Compressor, Mesa/Boogie five-band EQ, and ISP Technologies Decimator II G String Noise Suppressor, eventually ending through an Earthquaker Devices Dispatch Master and Wampler dB+. The Carr is fronted by a Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor and DOD 280 Reissue Compressor."
Here's a translation of all that junk: "Someone in this band has a lot of money to spend on expensive gear, and they probably spend more time tinkering than writing." And we haven't even gotten into the song-by-song breakdown of exactly what basses, guitars, keyboards, effects pedals, jingtinglers, floofloovers, and blumbloopas were employed on each track.
All of this mystery leads, of course, to one final destination: the music. The place where all a band's mythology-building crumbles or stands strong. Put on "Consider the Cage," and the answer is pretty clear, pretty quickly: these guys aren't just bad at social media, or at presenting an image. They're just some dudes making an album, likely in a basement, likely by themselves. And they just don't really sound like they know what they're doing, so much.
This isn't to say they're horrible. Actually, the songs can have their moments, where the guitar playing and the synths and the drums (which sound like they're coming from next door or something) get into a somewhat triumphant Replacements or Weakerthans mode. Most of "Consider the Cage" is perplexing, though. Why is the voice mixed so loud? Why are the drums not mixed louder? Why does the singer sound like he's sleepily doing karaoke on top of the tracks, rather than being a part of them? Why are the lyrics so dotted with nonsense lines like "Smashed my car and now I'm walking / smashing is clearly on my mind?"
None of these questions demand an answer, because all that matters is the music. No mystery, no promotional hook, no gear list—none of that is important, in the end. And, here, what we've got is a band that sounds like a couple of guys doing an okay job of making home recordings of okay songs. If the band actually became a band-band and recorded live, they would make way better music. Simple as that. Until then, the Midwest's Most Misunderstood Band will remain the perplexing enigma they are.
Artist: The 35
Album: "Consider the Cage"
Recorded at: Scab Studios North
Produced by: The 35
Personnel: Geoff Compton (drums), Cody Lindsay (remainder)
Listen to the album at duluthnewstribune.com.