While listening to any song I sometimes have this weird inability to figure out which exact other song it sounds like or reminds me of. Other times I’m left stranded between knowing a song reminds me of another artist, and recalling the name. On the one hand, this can make musical small talk a pretty draining affair from my perspective, with endless head-scratching, finger-clicking and “you know, they had that other song, about the thing. It was like ten years ago”. (It was probably more like 20 years ago. Or last month).
On the other hand, it does mean I’m sometimes prevented from offering a reductionist family tree of literally all the music I’ve ever listened to, in which there’s a place for everyone, and everyone knows their place. Better still, largely untethered and floating around in its own reality my brain is free to make loose-hinged associations based on whatever criteria it chooses. Which is how it occurred to me that Heavy Hands, the second track on Odd Anthem, reminds me simultaneously of Chewing Gum Weekend by The Charlatans and I Am The Walrus by, well, you know who I assume. In the case of Chewing Gum Weekend, it’s all in a vocal melody that pops up here and there, just a few notes is all. I’m not so sure about the Walrus link, though: it came, and it went, but it was definitely there.
The point of this unnecessarily long introduction, should there be one, might be this: Static in Verona may be the work of one man - Chicago musician Rob Merz - but Odd Anthem, his third album, conjures up so much more than you might imagine from that. It is an album that really pushes away at the fabric of its indie-pop tent, gathering in a vast range of sounds and feelings. You know that time when you got cornered at a party talking to guy one but it turned out they were by far the most interesting person in the whole place? No, probably not, because life doesn’t offer gimmes, but if it had happened, it would be like discovering Static in Verona for the first time.
The evidence: Shudder To Think kicks a prepared piano into the gutter for a Grandaddy-esque twinkle of electronica behind the verse, drops in (by coincidence, not design) the name of an Elliott Smith track, before really hitting its stride with a big booming ace of a chorus. A couple of tracks later I’m listening to Then a Hush and thinking about where I’ve heard a vocal like this before. Is there something Death Cab For Cutie about it in the verse, if not the chorus? It doesn’t sound like DCFC, really, or particularly remind me of them, but now I’m thinking about them. Maybe it’s something in that upper range of indie vocal styles that isn’t for everyone, but is for those of us who can go with it as long as it’s not joined by uber-masculine rockisms. Whatever it is, it’s sending my brain off again in all these manic directions, and it feels just wonderful. The fact that the chanted title in the lyric prefaces (ironically) a layered chorus in which the various components scroll by, parallax style, only reinforces the sensation.
Right after that Forgetful works similar magic, but I have no specific reductionist parallels for that one: it’s just another track on this album that comes alive during a great chorus.
Maybe it’s Merz’s approach to recording this album - a more relaxed method, allowing fragments and ideas to assemble themselves in the studio rather than laying complete structures before going in to record - that gives it this free association feel. It starts with opening track Anyone Anymore (Wannadies, since you ask), and also crops up in Wait, Wait (shades of Nada Surf?). Even Tomorrow Feels Like Yesterday, the first of the album’s closing comedown one-two that gives you back just enough breathing space to hit the repeat button, is screaming some name at me, if only I could figure out which.
Not that Odd Anthem feels like a tribute to, or pastiche of, some indie hall of fame. Far from it: what it does, and does so well, is remind you of what you already love, while at the same time giving you something new to add to the list.
Odd Anthem is, if you’ll excuse the obvious album title callback, the sound of one man trying to out-anthem himself. And winning at it.
Odd Anthem is available now, from Bandcamp, on a name your price basis.