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The Trypes - Music for Neighbors

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Artist: The Trypes

Album: Music for Neighbors

Label: Acute

Review date: Apr. 24, 2012

First things first: Do not confuse these Trypes with the Greek band of the same name, which has a much more robust YouTube presence and a much more modest sound. These Trypes were born 31 years ago in Haledon, New Jersey’s The Come On Inn. Two young guys, Elbrus Kelemet and Marc Francia, cooked up a plan; record one song, press it on a single, and put it in the bar’s jukebox. Elbrus sang, Marc played guitar, and they recruited a couple pals — Toni Paruto on recorder, John Baumgartner on organ — to help them work out some songs. When time came to try and get their sound down on tape, they approached a couple local guys with a broken-up band and a basement studio. Those guys were Glenn Mercer and Bill Million of The Feelies, and they not only recorded the tape, they joined the band. But it wasn’t exactly a takeover, since Mercer played stand-up drums rather than his usual guitar, and Millions initially handled the soundboard.

Nonetheless they became part of a constellation of interrelated ensembles like The Willies, Yung Wu and Dr. Robert, all associated by membership with The Feelies. Music For Neighbors, a retrospective of everything The Trypes released in their lifetime plus 13 archival tracks, takes its title from a concert series that took place in the spring of 1983, when all of those combos took turns playing another Haledon watering hole called The Peanut Gallery. But it also sums up this music, which is made by, with, and for a fairly insular community. They were niche rockers before there was such a thing, but also the latest iteration of something that had been around for ages — local combos made up of people with no notion of making music a career, but who played for the fun of playing, and for the fun of hanging out.

Most of The Trypes’ music never got heard outside the neighborhood — at least, not until now. Music For Neighbors includes not just the tunes they actually released during their lifetime, but 13 more that you could only have known if you knew them or caught one of their shows. There are eleven songs, including the five released back in the 80s, on an LP that comes enclosed in an appropriately homemade letterpress sleeve, and seven more come with the accompanying download coupon. The accompanying booklet is filled with remembrances by core band members and No. 1 fan/occasional sound guy Ira Kaplan, and it’s full of old pictures just like an old snapshot album you might pass around when the neighbors stop by.

But The Trypes music, especially in their earliest years, might not have charmed all the neighbors -- only the ones who thought that Talking Heads really should have taken Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band more seriously. Dominated by keyboards and percussion that adorns more than it drives, it’s not the sort of thing that’d make you bang on the door and ask them to turn it down, but it’s also fairly idiosyncratic stuff. Kelemet doesn’t so much sing as declaim, sounding as wobbly and earnest as that old guy down the block who wants you to sign his resolution about local lawncare. He sounds appropriately disconsolate on “Belmont Girl is Mad at Me,” about being on the outs with a local belle, and like he’s about to crack up on the under-powered garage rocker “Force Of Habit.” If The Feelies were the boys with perpetual nervousness, Kelemet sounds like the guy who moved into his parents’ basement and never came out except to smoke and talk to himself at night. Not everything’s so dire; his voice blends quite beautifully with those of the rest of the band, as well as clarinet and organ, on the gently drifting “Friends.”

Eventually Kelement left, for reasons not disclosed in the booklet, and the band expanded to include bassist Brenda Sauter and drummer Stanley Demeski. Mercer started playing guitar and Millions moved his own percussion set onto the stage. Some live tracks from around that time feature a fuller sound that somewhat overwhelms Baumgartner’s unassertive vocal leads; he was, at that time at least, a much more persuasive orchestrator and player than singer. By the time The Trypes got around to making a record in 1984, they looked and sounded a lot more like a Feelies side project.

Mercer sang on two of The Explorer’s Hold‘s four tracks, and while the weave of keyboards, woodwinds, acoustic guitars and female voices gave the music a softer focus, those crazy rhythms still rolled underneath. Arriving at a time when R.E.M. was starting to make waves and The Feelies were starting to look more like harbingers of the present rather than one-off punk-era anomalies, The Explorer’s Hold was just the right record at the right time, at least for the thousand or so folks who snagged its slightly bowl-shaped single pressing (if you want to know why CDs got so popular so quick, listen to an early ‘80s 12”). But after releasing one additional tune on a Hoboken-themed compilation LP, Luxury Condos Coming To Your Neighborhood Soon, The Trypes split. The Feelies reconstituted, taking Demeski and Sauter with them, as well as a Trypes-informed increased openness to acoustic sounds that made The Good Earth the sublime yang to Crazy Rhythms‘s bracing yin. Baumgartner and Paruto married, and they and Francia formed Speed The Plough, which carried on The Trypes’ sound with a shifting line-up that currently includes some of their kids. To this day they’re still making music for the folks from the block.

By Bill Meyer

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