Lane Steinberg: Pop’s Stunt Double

14 Oct

Writing this post pains me. And it will pain you too, deeply, if only you’d let it. It hurts me because I am not sure all Pig State Recon readers – or even PSR family members – will agree with what I have to say. But say it, I must.

It is clear that not all music lovers pine for a return of the popular Tin Pan Alley showtunes of NOEL COWARD, or the lush Brill Building pop confection of BURT BACHARACH and HAL DAVID, or even the sensitive, piano-driven singer songwriter stuff of CAROLE KING. And precious fewer of you have recorded so many low-budget tributes to such derided aesthetics as Lane Steinberg has over the years. But this is why I love the guy. Let me elaborate:

THE WINDThe Best of The Wind 1979 – 1986 (EM Records, 2002) Let’s get this straight: Lane Steinberg’s THE WIND was one seriously messed up band. These boys largely eschewed the reigning 3 chord Power Pop paradigm at the dawn of the 80’s and instead were drawn to elaborate chord progressions that made JOE JACKSON’s “Steppin’ Out” sound underwritten. They took a devilish glee at shoehorning witty, syncopated lyric lines into slowburn lounge-pop numbers, if only to irk lazier listeners. And not only did they occasionally play soulful piano vamps that would’ve made BILLY JOEL proud, apparently they wore tan sportcoats straight out of The Piano Man’s wardrobe. As I said, messed up.

In amongst all this, they somewhow penned the coolest early BEATLES knockoffs I’ve ever heard, wrote a grip of catchy tuneage that beat TODD RUNDGREN at his best LAURA NYRO impressions, and rocked an awesome Samba-pop romp called “Sushi Bar” I just can’t seem to stop humming. That THE WIND’s chosen form – an oddball sort of Extreme Pop – seemed untouched by then prevailing Punk, New Wave or even Garage/Paisley revival trends is testimony to a powerful, peculiar vision. THE WIND were devouring the entire scope of 20th century pop songform and spitting it back at us in a ZAPPA inspired, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kinda way. This made for a not always comfortable but thoroughly mindblowing listening experience, and I recommend this compilation wholeheartedly.

TAN SLEEVEBad From Both Sides (The Bus Stop Label, 2003) TAN SLEEVE was a 90’s/00’s reunion of Lane with his ex-WIND songwriting partner, Steve Barry Katz. While their pop genius was still completely intact, the gee-whiz fire of THE WIND had mellowed somewhat, and the tempering presence of Katz results in a more NPR-friendly sound than Lane might’ve come up with alone. Still, these two sound like they’re hurrying down dark North London alleys looking for RAY DAVIES on “Destruction,” sneaking a peek at ROGER MCGUINN’s stock portfolio on “Maria Bartiromo” and examining BRIAN WILSON’s middle ear on “Breakfast At Tiffany’s.” Which some of us will reckon are great, great things.

Others of you will be tempted to deride these songs as THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS smarm, or perhaps kinda cloying in their wordiness ala JON BRION. And you will be wrong. This is because unlike THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, TAN SLEEVE never ever grovel for your love. Plus it’s obvious that neither Lane nor Katz have the big motion picture industry connections a JON BRION has. No: this remains pop from the outside looking in, played by guys that might well leave a turd in your Hollywood punchbowl if you don’t watch em closely.

LANE STEINBERGCheeks Are Blooming (no label, 2012) For me, Lane’s solo work is where it’s really at. Unbridled by the necessary concessions one makes in collaborations, here Lane can ride the wild, contrary hoss of his musicality where ever he sees fit. And that covers a heck of a lotta terrain.

Part of the fun of this guy’s work has always been in the train-spotting: hearing the myriad of diverse musical influences, picking out just who/what/where he’s referencing in any given song. So the old timey piano playing, upper register vocals, and battlefield lyrics in “Wyse Fork Showdown” conjures up images of Big Pink-era THE BAND, while the deliberate, neo-classical decorum of “The Mistrial” tells me PROCOL HARUM were lurking somewhere in the general vicinity.

But as on every Lane rec there are other songs (like the half dozen co-written by the King of Ageing Pop Weirdos, R. STEVIE MOORE) which are like nothing else: subtly beautiful, oddly strange, and really wonderful. It’s for moments like the gorgeous opener “Theorem” that you’re gonna find yourself returning to this, over and over. Heck I’d be spinning this album nonstop everyday, if only my wife didn’t throw shoes at me when I do.

MUSTAFIOThe Family Bastard (Cheft, 2008) Who is Mustafio? First and foremost, Mustafio is a man with a distinctive accent who is not shy of using it. He likes to muse on random topics – a mouse that wears coats, a veterinarian that revives dead animals, how much he hates Tom Shipley – spinning off exponentially into dozens of other random topics with scant regard for linear narrative. Finding linguistic connections where sane men ought not stick their tongues, Mustafio moves tirelessly between dissociative non sequitur the way a New York pickpocket works a crowd of hapless Japanese tourists.

Throughout, a backing soundtrack segues from woozy electronic moan to gristly percussion clatter with the ease of post-coffee bowel movement. Yes it’s queasy-making but also mesmerizing, and after a few minutes listening, you will no longer care – you will simply be Mustafio. This is why, when Mustafio notes “I don’t even remember my teeth; they had been loose and falling out for some time,” I reach for my dentures.

I realise all this has absolutely nada to do with any music mentioned elsewhere in this post. But in fact Lane Steinberg is Mustafio too. Go figure.

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5 Responses to “Lane Steinberg: Pop’s Stunt Double”

  1. Disaster Amnesiac aka Shovedhead October 14, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    A) Hey Mister is a great tune!
    B) Ally: please don’t throw any more shoes!
    C) Disaster Amnesiac MUST find the Mustafio CD!
    D) The truth can now be told: Mark Pino played drums in a group that sounded a lot like the Wind, dorkily named Honeysticks, in the 1990’s, after tiring of heavy drug referenced stress in a previous band. I joined because the singer/songwriter reminded me of Marc Bolan at his most willfully fey points. Your truth has set me free!

    • mrowster October 14, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

      The thing is them pop dandies can be just as reckless with their drug intake as their hairier rocker counterparts. And if they aren’t, well then their girlfriends will surely be. Tread carefully my friend: One Day At A Time.

  2. Michael Dill October 14, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    A great article, and you’ve only scratched the surface of this man’s breadth and depth: In The Return Of Noel Coward’s Ghost, he ponders the fact that his chosen path as a musician has doomed him to obscurity and unsatisfying day jobs. A brilliant album if ever there was one.
    With Cracked Latin, he explores latin rhythms, and pays homage to all the greats.
    With 8X8, “The Anatomy of an Apricot”, he and Alexander Khodchenko create a tribute to psychedelic pop utterly convincing without ever sounding derivative.
    And on top of all that, he’s one of the best vocalists around.

    • mrowster October 14, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

      Michael: Thanks for stopping in . . . clearly, you are a fellow Lane-ophile too. I had hoped to touch on more of Lane’s projects – 8×8’s new “I’m a Werewolf, Baby” single in particular is freakin’ AWESOME – but my typing fingers got tired. I’m a really lazy blogger. But I agree wholeheartedly with your assessments. Cheers!

      • Michael Dill October 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

        Well, I also felt scooped, since I’ve wanted to write some sort of appreciation for his music for quite a while. Yes, the new single is fantastic. He also just released ANOTHER collaboration with David Grahame. I’ve only heard the trailer for it since I can’t order it for another week or so, but it’s, as usual, full of great melodies.

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