Issue #148: Pictures by The Len Price 3

February 4, 2019

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Pictures by The Len Price 3
Released On January 18, 2010
Released By Wicked Cool Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Steve Lampiris

I remember the moment I got into classic rock. This was somewhere around the turn of the century. Yes, I’m sticking with that usage. ’99 or 2000, something like that. I was in middle school for sure. I was at a friend’s house, and he popped in My Generation: The Very Best Of The Who and hit play. Its first song, “I Can’t Explain,” came on and Pete Townshend’s opening riff instantly changed my whole world. It’s a Kinks rip-off, sure, but dammit if it isn’t the best kind of rip-off: the kind that creates pop perfection in its own way.

I’d heard parts of the canon before in car rides with my parents — “Stairway,” “Hey Jude,” “Satisfaction,” et cetera — but that burst of candy coating was what finally broke down the barrier in my mind for “old music.” I spent the next several years through high school and into college devouring all the classics (and also Radiohead and jam bands, because college). To this day, if I had to pick only one genre to listen to ‘til I die, it’d be classic rock.

So it should come as no surprise that I was instantly drawn to Pictures. The songwriting is smart and succinct and unabashedly poppy, just like “I Can’t Explain”. There isn’t much, if any, fat to be found. The trio — singer and guitarist Glenn Page, bassist Steve Huggins, and drummer and backup singer Neil Fromow — play and sing exactly what’s needed in service to the song and stop there. There’s a respectable confidence is knowing what is and is not needed to finish a song, especially a pop song.

And speaking of, this is a record where any if its baker’s dozen tracks could be a single. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve had one of these songs stuck in my head only to have it replaced by another one from this same record. It’s just vocal hook after vocal hook. It’s the kind of (seemingly) effortless songwriting that provokes “How are they doing this?!”-style jealousy. Yet, an entire album of bouncy Skittles brightness that’s sugary sweet to the ears sounds like it might be overkill. Sometimes, though, you just want something that’s easy to enjoy, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

That’s where Pictures comes in. If you need a pick-me-up or a quick dopamine hit for motivation, throw it on. It’s pleasant and fun, and that’s all it’s supposed to be. And while the lyrics throughout have a certain dark underbelly featuring heavy topics like cheating, dishonesty, and voyeurism, their straightforward and sing-songy nature makes them universal (“I don’t know how you face yourself everyday / I don’t believe a single word that you say”) and occasionally worth a chuckle (“The poor old wife fills her heart up with hate / She’s sneaking out the backdoor and she’s shagging your mate”).

Pete Townshend was never that humorous — although “My Wife,” written by Who bassist John Entwistle, is easily the funniest song in the band’s catalogue — but he, along with Ray Davies, are the main reasons that Pictures exists. So yeah, I admit that my enjoyment of this comes as much from its own excellent songwriting as much as it does from how it reminds me of the music I grew up on. And so what if The Len Price 3 candidly borrowed The Kinks aesthetic by way of The Who? If it results in something as likeable as Pictures, I say it needs to happen more often.

Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That

Classic rock spirit and ambience channeled through modern day aptitude and perception.

One of them will spot your ad on the way out of the shop. They’ll be struck by your design prowess in choosing large black Comic Sans title that reads “Play Garage Rock, Mate!” This person has vision! Make sure you specify your needs up front — don’t keep anyone guessing. You need the holy trinity — a bass player, and a drummer and you. That’s it! Presumably you’re the front-person who will also play a jangly, clean guitar. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be the one placing the ad. Think about it — you’ve never seen an ad by a drummer looking for someone to play along to his rhythms — it just doesn’t happen. “Hey — I wrote this song that goes bang-tap-bang-tap-bang-tap…!” — that’s not a thing, my friend. Maybe you’ll see an ad from a bass player from time to time but be wary, there is only so much room for Royal Bloods and Death From Above 1979s. In most cases, you’ll want to be the one placing the ad and ensuring that you’re standing in the middle during the rehearsals. That’s your job! That’s just how it works! You will, of course, write songs about love. You want more range? No sweat: you write songs about love going well, songs about love going badly, and songs about love’s particular details for better or for worse. Every now and then you throw a curveball about your job to keep the critics pointing out your “growth and maturity”. The drummer will bang the snare and symbol on a relentless 4-4 time and lightly tap the kick drum just enough to give it a sense of purpose. Of course, there will be comparisons to The Beatles, but they will be respectfully hushed and whispered intimately at your smaller shows. Obviously you’re faster, louder and fresher than The Beatles. That will get the attention of the record labels who will sign you on the spot. They too will avoid public Beatles comparisons preferring, “garage rock,” “Brit rock,” or the deadly and dismissive “pop rock.” It makes no difference — the point is people are talking. At some point, you should write a track called “Under The Thumb” and it’ll be a super high-energy garage rock anthem which needs nothing additional. I suggest you add something. Add a harmonica. Suddenly your garage rock sounds like the blues and all the failed comparisons to other eras will fall away. Now you’re crossing genres. When they hear “The Girl Who Became A Machine” with its vintage keys and Chuck Berry stylings, you’ll be gracing the airwaves of every barber shop and micro-brewery tasting room from Medway, UK to Portland, USA. Finally, I suggest you call yourselves “The Len Price 3” — even though none of you are named Len Price. Len is actually an insurance salesman (maybe?). It doesn’t matter. Name your album something equally ambiguous and without context like Bottles, or Trousers or … no … Pictures, yes! People will wonder if you’re referring to photographs (Americans, am’I’right?) but your British fans will, of course, assume you’re talking above movies. This despite the camera graphic on the front of your record. They will ponder the hidden meaning as they romp through 13 clanging, harmonized pop songs. It doesn’t matter — the point is, they’re talking. Most importantly, play it loud. Really loud. Now even louder! This will work, trust me. I’ve seen it before. You don’t need the nod of Bon Iver or the tweets of Kanye West to break out. You only need to rock the roof off. Trust me. You’ll be great.

Darryl Wright (@punksteez)
Lovechild Of The Music & Technology Marriage

From the first moment of listening, I felt like I’d always known Pictures. Characterizing every single track of this upbeat, almost bubblegum poppy album is a herald to some past decade or musical trend. A decidedly joyful pastiche of an album, The Len Price 3 pull in some of the most discernible references to particular pop eras into a blend of tracks that could be from almost any period. From the ’70s, we have the treble fuzziness and tinny organ that dip back to some psychedelic rock of the time. Simplistic but driving drum lines touch back to both ’90s garage bands and ’50s era rock, with ties to the ’90s also in singing so happily about subjects like lying partners and the end of relationships. In “Jack In The Greens,” one can hear a small indication in how recently this album dropped, but even there a noticeable Beatles thread confuses the exact date. Perhaps, though, the strongest point on this album, other than the musicality of touching on so many bands and genres, is the unabashed joy with which they play, singing about anything on their hearts, all while enticing their listeners to just dance along in their wake.

Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite

We sit at the intersection of two notable anniversaries: Green Day’s multi-platinum-selling masterpiece Dookie turned 25 this past Friday, and Sunday marked 60 years since “the day the music died.” Instagram pictures of that explosive Dookie cover art. The Buddy Holly Story spinning on the turntable. While it’s made for a weekend drenched in nostalgia, I’m not sure I would have seen those milestones as meaningfully related were it not for the fact that I was also listening to the Len Price 3’s Pictures, an album that glues together disparate parts of the massive rock and roll universe that took shape in the 35 years between those bookends. Buddy and Billie Joe both happen to be American, but Brits made so many marks on rock’s growth chart during that time, and Pictures picks up where some of the greats left off. A pub rock sound reminiscent of Elvis Costello’s acts as a base for the album’s stylistic stew, which is made rich by wonderfully specific allusions. “Mr. Grey” recalls the psychedelic storytelling of the Kinks, while “If You Live Round Here” could have found a home on London Calling. “After You’re Gone” may be my favorite in terms of connecting rock dots. You get this perfectly catchy chorus that uses oohs, ahhs, and harmonies in just the spots that The Beatles would have on their early recordings, but not before the last line of the verse cuts a melodic shape in the mold of Green Day’s “Basket Case.” (As a side note, this is my daughter’s favorite tune on the album as well. I noticed she was singing the chorus while helping me prep the grill on Sunday.) I find this type of intertextuality so fascinating and rewarding, and from that perspective, Pictures is notably generous.

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

Click here to watch the pastiche video for “Mr. Grey.”

With classic movie reels and cheeky band poses helping to further the layered subversion of the record.

I knew these guys in high school. Well, not really these guys. And it wasn’t really high school as I’d already graduated. But since I was booted out with a diploma at 16, I didn’t go away to college, but found an in-between program. That’s where I met Peter and Will. Peter also had his idol Townshend’s nose and a Rickenbacker guitar. Will played bass. We got along even though I was in the first flower of my love for Led Zeppelin and they thought Jimmy Page’s production was shit. They also couldn’t understand the Young Marble Giants, whom I worshiped (still do), saying “Anyone could do that.” They were wrong, but anyway. Somehow I visited them where they lived, in a suburb, don’t remember which one or how I got there, with a garage where they rehearsed. Peter could be morose, his drooping proboscis seeming to pull his whole mood towards hangdog. But when he strapped on that Rick, plugged it into a Fender Twin Reverb, and started spraying off tight chords — his pick moving with diamond-like precision on the strings, the point of his booted foot making emphatic patterns on the concrete floor — I was looking at a different person. Or a different species: homo sapiens becomes homo rockus rollus. If I knew the members of The Len Price 3 from their day jobs (they all got’em, according to this interview with my old acquaintance, Jack Rabid), I think I would witness this same transformation when I went to see them play at our local pub. Even if their focus on early Brit-pop (Kinks, Who, Beatles) and first-wave punk (Pistols, Clash, Undertones) is narrow, their well-worn materials turn to gold thanks to the alchemy of their passion, commitment, and skill. These thrills are for you, Peter, I know you’d love this album wherever you are.

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

The Len Price 3 are an interesting little reminder about how much the needle pointing to garage rock has moved and changed over the decades. There are definitely qualities that have remained through the generations (e.g. upbeat tempos, less serious subject matter, uncomplicated instrumental arrangements not that far from classic punk). However, Pictures and its channeling of ’60s rock and ’70s punk are so much more sonically lightweight and jovial than the often brash tones, impulsive rhythms, and-or lo-fi aesthetic of garage rock arriving on the internet today. That’s not to say current day garage rock doesn’t sometimes emulate this now eight year old Len Price 3 record, but it’s likely more a conscious choice to write in that style more so than a default trend today. That said, one of the very first and most amusing things I noticed about Pictures, came right at the start of “I Don’t Believe You.” I immediately thought I was hearing the beginning to a cover of The Romantics’ iconic song, “What I Like About You.” The mild aural comparison with the backing hook isn’t a wide leap, but it’s another aspect of the album that steers the mood more toward upbeat and rag-tag friendly that upbeat and notably distorted. Generally, this noticeable rhythmic framework and handful of chord progressions ties much of the album together (jump right to “Nothing Like You” and feel the rhythmic similarities). It’s worth noting that while The Len Price 3 don’t go as sonically rough on Pictures as some present day garage counter parts, the band’s method of presentation (many songs, short lengths) is again, more akin to classic punk song form than an often expected three minute rock song. And speaking of punk, this past-to-present inclination of thought only continues with “Man Who Used To Be,” as the swinging four-count rhythm of the opening guitar, followed by the rapid bit of drum fill, sounds like an introduction straight out of the timeless Green Day playbook (cue up “Holiday” from American Idiot), which could easily go that way if it were replaced by a heavy bass line or Billie Joe Armstrong’s voice instead of the distinct but tame-toned organ that continues the intro. What’s key there isn’t anything super detailed but more just the chosen momentum and flow of the songs, and the fact that the intangible but recognizable nature of this element of songwriting can create connective parallels between bands and spins on styles that might otherwise be rather disparate in their musical intents. Overall, Pictures appears like a pretty open and shut case of more melodic UK garage rock, but hone in on different aspects throughout and suddenly there’s more of the unexpectedly blended driving the music. The album, simply as is, can be an enjoyable cruise-control listen on its own, but these added specks of less predictable stylistic connectivity give the record more dimension and thus, make it that much more fun to peruse.

Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier

These guys rock, so I it would be totally wrong to cast them as “Easy Listening,” but that’s exactly what this record is — easy listening. Infectious energy, catchy, honest songwriting with straightforward lyrics that leave no guess work. It’s one of those records that plays deceptively quick because you’re having so much fun listening to it. The first thing that caught me was the retro sound, which we’ve seen a few times over the last handful of OYR issues. The band pull off the garage rock aesthetic of yesteryear perfectly, perhaps best through the incorporation of the electric organ on “The Girl Who Became A Machine.” But what’s really special about the record is the songwriting. There’s a self deprecating, ironic self awareness, especially on “After You’re Gone,” that reminds me of my amusement the first time I heard early Green Day records. And they’re funny! “Keep Your Eyes On Me” actually made me laugh: “She’s got hair extensions, and she’s got orange skin / her fake nails and makeup, and now she’s much too thin / she had an alteration, did something to her face / and now she looks like something that came from outer space.” Put that on a hip hop beat, and it’s a Run-DMC record. I think I’ve said this a few times before, but I always admire the similarity between punk rock and hip hop: the lyrical clarity allows for such vivid story telling, and aggressive messages. There’s nothing that we as listeners have to figure out. Take “Nothing Like You,” for instance: “I’m nothing like you, anyone can see / I don’t need your love, and you’re nothing like me.” And just like that, we can see that Pictures is such an appropriate title.

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

The band easily rises above its overt influences with impressive charm and nuanced talent.

I haven’t kept it much of a secret here that I’m a big fan of ’90s Bay Area punk rock. It just so happens that this month Green Day’s Dookie and Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy both hit their 25th anniversary, so most of what I’ve been listening to this week is a bunch of stuff I listened to in high school. Then comes along The Len Price 3’s Pictures and a confession I haven’t let slip as much in the pages of OYR: during my formative years, I had a strong interest in garage rock. My dad played a lot of records by The Who growing up (in particular I recall Tommy and Who’s Next regularly on repeat), with The Kinks occasionally gracing my ears. In the early 2000s when The Strokes, The Vines, The Hives, and The White Stripes all started to gain mainstream recognition, I felt like I found my own version of what my dad liked. I even ventured out into the lesser tier garage bands, although to be honest The Androids are the only name that I can still remember off the top of my head. As usual, this is a roundabout way of me saying that The Len Price 3 are a band that I think I would have fit right into my CD collection when I was in high school… never mind the fact that I had already graduated college by the time Pictures had come out. The guitars are more in line with the mod rock that my dad played for me as a kid, but I can easily picture myself buying this album based on a single listen of “I Don’t Believe You” after hearing it on a Music Choice channel. Much like almost any album I bought on a whim back in those days, I’d have to force myself to listen a few times before conceding that I only liked a handful of tunes (“The Girl Who Became A Machine” certainly would have been a favorite, and just to bring things full circle back to the West Coast, “Man Who Used To Be” could pass for a Foxboro Hot Tubs track if one simply added Billie Joe’s nasally sneer). But getting to listen to Pictures in its entirely now, some decade and a half removed from school, I feel like I can appreciate it in a different light. Yeah, it’s very obvious that the band takes influence from a very particular sound, but it doesn’t sound stale or like a cheap knockoff. I feel like that’s a balance that’s much harder achievement than people realize. The Len Price 3 will likely never shed comparisons to The Who or The Jam, but those comparisons are also never likely to be used as an insult against them.

Dustin Gates (@cmoncheermeup)
Relapsed Pop Culture Junkie

I’ve always been a huge fan of British music so of course, this album was no exception. As a listening experience, it’s very easy to listen to from beginning to end with the songs all running under 3 minutes, creating a nice flow that ends up forming a nice little story almost. Ignore the 2010 release date — this has that classic British garage feel, right as the sound was morphing into early punk. Pair that with the accent that comes through so clearly, and it just gives the album a great nostalgic sound with modern polish. Looking forward to spending more cold winter days looking through the band’s catalogue and finding some more favourites!

Chelsea Kostrey (@chelseakostrey)
Retrophile & Festival Enthusiast

Instantly, I knew this was a record for me. A garage rock sound rooted in classic sentimentality that could have fit 1965, 1975, 1985, or 1995 depending on where in the world it was released. It even had some great pop harmonies and counter-melodies that were notably absent from the glory days of the British Invasion or early American radio rock. Everything here was a home run to my ears. But as I made my way through the tracklist — totaling 13 songs, all great — I found myself thinking less about the inviting sound and captivating melodies and more about this album’s place in the influence vs. rip-off debate going on right now. Today, we have so many great bands revisiting the ’90s alt-rock sound or leaning on lavish ’80s production techniques to carry along their sonic ideas, and there always seems to be a critic waiting behind the corner ready to rip them down for exploring a path already tracked. Going back further to the ’70s and you’ll land on Greta Van Fleet, everyone’s favorite band to rip on at the moment even though there’s nothing wrong with their sound or music whatsoever. (For the record, not a fan, but I find the hyperbolic attacks around their music misguided and hollow.) Pictures sums up a belief I’ve had for a while, one that shows why bands and artists revisiting past sounds can still feel fresh and relevant even as we enter into the third decade of the century. No matter the style or influence, the music here is still a product of its time. No matter what influence you can point to here — The Who, The Kinks, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones — there’s very few songs on here that actually feel like it would come from one of them, completely that is. Most of this comes from the lyrics. Just listen to the one-two punch of “The Girl Who Became A Machine” and “After You’re Gone” and then tell me a record from the ’60s or ’70s that they would effectively fit on. For all the “Lola”’s you want throw at me, I’d just point to how those songs excel in their outlier status, and served more as a brief delude rather than a full-on exploration. It’s the modern perception – we just think, talk, and act differently today than we did in the ‘60s, and that will always make songs replicating that sound instantly different. Sure, there are bands who will try their best to overcome that natural instinct – I find a lot of them in the southern rock or gospel rock spaces these days – but for the most part, you’ve got Courtney Barnett out here singing about an elevator operator in the style of the ‘90s, even though I doubt Bikini Kill or The Lemonheads would have opened a record like that. So yeah, the band is wearing their influences on their sleeves here, but they’re also performing them with model modern flair, bringing the sounds from our parents and grandparents into the digital age with poise and at least some form of eccentricity.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
Dancer With Bruised Knees by Kate & Anna McGarrigle
Chosen By Davy Jones

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: Laura Burroughs, Erin Calvert, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Dustin Gates, Kira Grunenberg, Davy Jones, Chelsea Kostrey, Steve Lampiris, SJ Lebowski, David Munro, Drew Necci, Jeremy Shatan, & Darryl Wright

Logo By Matt Klimas


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