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Prisonshake - Dirty Moons

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Artist: Prisonshake

Album: Dirty Moons

Label: Scat

Review date: Sep. 19, 2008

Prisonshake harkens back to the days before the musical underground had been given the Rand-Mcnally road atlas treatment. Phenomena like Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could be Your Life may have established the idea of an underground rock ‘canon’, but the smaller bands who played the same field throughout the ’80s have aged with a more intriguing sense of style. One of the many charms of left-of-center music is that it’s a large and diverse enough universe for one to leap into along with a few close buddies, and all emerge on the other side with completely different stories and experiences. Nowadays, with many young kids sweating heavily over the reunions of criterion bands whose members are three times their senior, and those same kids shelling out untold thousands in festival dollars to see performances of ‘signature’ albums in their entirety, a lot of the visceral joy associated with loving something just because it’s cool and different has been lost. With the approval index at such all-consuming peaks and venture capitalists masking as tastemakers, it’s no wonder I’ve started listening to my Springsteen records again.

Thank the god of your choice for Prisonshake. They’re a band who have for nearly 20 years (albeit with a few major timeouts in there) flown the flag of the pre-sensationalized underground – a place and time when unknown bands were as likely to reference Mission of Burma as they might be to summon up the Residents, Can, Dag Nasty and Christian Death in the same breath, but without implying any great chasm between them in terms of merit or virtue. Sometimes regarded as a little buddy band to Guided by Voices (Prisonshake’s Robert Griffin runs the Scat label, which issued GbV’s Box, and maintained close ties to the band throughout their meteoric ascent), but Prisonshake has always sounded to me like a hard-working bar band with an arsenal of complex and compelling songs for the freaks, fuckups and criminal elements that lurk on the fringes of any good art scene. In spite of them having been so quiet for the last ten years, Dirty Moons demonstrates that their fierce ambitions have yet to discover the brake pedal. (A double gatefold album is practically a letdown for a band whose first proper full-length was a box set comprising a vinyl LP, compact disc, cassette, and 7“ single with no repeated material.)

Staying true to form, they continue to defy easy matchmaking. Prisonshake is a rock band with no need for modifiers or prepositions. Vocalist Doug Enkler brags as much on “The Cut-Out Bin”: “Some say rock and roll has died, and at times like this I wish they were right / And when they bring back the cut-out bin, save a spot for us right behind the Pretty Things.”

Elsewhere on Dirty Moons, the band’s ace songwriting skills have a way of bridging the most fragile human experiences with the more expository moments, like when standing on a table and swinging a towel over your head while hooting and hollering seems like perfectly reasonable behavior. The band immediately blows doors off the barn with “It Was a Very Good Year,” a song which duly serves the fans who once elevated the phrase “Cut loose with the watts, pussy” to battlecry status. “Crush Me,” “Favorite Hospital,” and “I Will Comment” summon the desperation and uniquely second-city imagery of their hometown Cleveland (even if they all moved elsewhere years ago). With equal parts fuzz, crash and smarts, the album barrels towards its inevitable closer, “Fake Your Own Death,” which is a Circle-cum-Marshall boogie distortion fest that hammers home all points with savage will.

Prisonshake is a band with enormous ideas, born of their obvious passion for the unabridged version of history’s playbook. In an era when music with a much more conservative agenda can regularly earn instant and careless acclaim, their return to the fray is cause for great expectation. Dirty Moons’ near-perfect marriage of power, noise, tenderness and talent comes highly recommended for courageous fans of the burnt and bloodied songbook that is unique to the American rock underground.

By Mike Lupica

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