Young Fresh Fellows – Because We Hate You

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

This album creates complications for the orderly-minded. It’s packaged as a split album with the Minus 5’s Let the War Against Music Begin, both bands, of course, led by Scott McCaughey and based out of the Pacific NW. So how does one catalogue it? Add to the calculus the fact that the cover is not split – it is very much the Minus 5’s name and album title on the cover. The back cover shows the Because We Hate You art, but it is reduced in size by about 1/7th to make room for other information (the cover is also depicted in the liner notes three times – once behind a potted plant, and twice on fire). The spine attempts to balance things out by promising “The Young Fresh Fellows, Because We Hate You vs. The Minus 5, Let the War Against Music Begin.” And what importance is it if one album is more enjoyable than the other? How about if, for example, this was the only Minus 5 album I had whereas I already owned a bunch of Young Fresh Fellows discs? So. Does this album belong with the Ms, popular and democratic? Or should it go in the Ys, rarified and remote? And if your answer is that you don’t organize your albums alphabetically, please leave the country. I placed it with the Ys. I honestly don’t remember why, but probably because I thought the Ys were underpopulated.

What I Think of This Album

This is a pretty typical Young Fresh Fellows offering:  power-pop, usually heavy on the guitar, with goofy asides. McCaughey is responsible for most of the songs here, with one cover, one fake cover, and one contribution from drummer Tad Hutchinson and Chris Ballew of the Presidents of the United States of America.

The cover is “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight,” originally by the ‘60s songwriting team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (writers of “Last Train to Clarksville,” “(Theme from) the Monkees,” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”).

The fake cover is credited to a supposed Scottish pair named Batum Shrag and Croaker Norge under the name of The Sharpners, and reportedly dates back to 1979. But it turns out that Batum/Shrag was a freeway exit near Spokane, just as Croaker-Norge is a highway exit in eastern Virginia (and suddenly this is very reminiscent of the origins of Sleater-Kinney’s name). And good luck trying to dig up information on a pub rock band called the Sharpners. There is actually a separate songwriting and publishing credit for this song in the liner notes; comparison to credits in other Young Fresh Fellows albums (don’t ever tell me I am not committed to this) reveals that McCaughey and guitarist Kurt Bloch wrote this song. Of course, the liner notes here are full of other jokes, including explicit mockery of liner note readers.

What this album is also full of is tunefulness and fun. “Barky’s Spiritual Store” blasts out of the speakers with a galloping rhythm guitar part and “oh la la la” backing vocals; Bloch has a nice short solo here and Hutchinson rocks admirably behind the kit. Hutchinson shows off again on the Wilco-referencing “Lonely Spartanburg Flower Stall.” The unabashed “For the Love of a Girl” is lush and sunny. The liner notes to the moody, lethargic “Worthless” are dead on with the Neil Young & Crazy Horse comparison.

“Little Bell” is a highlight, with a spooky, subdued organ part, a pumping bass line, and McCaughey’s harmonica. The hazy “Summerland” boasts the wonderful lyric:  “At the start I had Achilles’s heart.” The band pays tribute to a (fictional?) Krispy Kreme server by giving her a lovely little melody in “Mamie Dunn – Employee of the Month” – but not before Bloch skronks for 45 seconds.

There are some songs that just don’t work (keyboard heavy “Fuselage” – interestingly constructed, at least; “My Drum Set” – stupid; thrashy “She’s a Book” – at least it’s short; “Good Times Rock & Roll” – pleasant, and honestly I don’t like it only because it references the Presidents of the United States of America and I really hated their radio hits in the ‘90s), but that’s okay. Fake cover “Your Truth Our Lies” starts with a fake crowd chanting “because we hate you” (the song was allegedly “recorded live at the February 30th Club, Binding, USA”) and the truth is, this actually does sound like a late ‘70s punk-influenced pub rocker, with bassist Jim Sangster doing his rough best on vocals.

The real treasure here, though, is the piano and strings ode “The Ballad of Only You and the Can Prevent Forest Fires,” which tells the tragic story of a flash-in-the-pan band with a controlling manager and a headstrong, feminist leader. Bloch has an excellent lead part and the strings are glorious (the shift just before the outro is amazing), while McCaughey offers a sympathetic vocal.

John Wesley Harding sings backup on this song. Elsewhere, Cheap Trick/Glen Campbell/Suicide Machines producer Julian Raymond also joins on backup, and Poco keyboardist Kim Bullard appears on a couple of tracks.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Little Bell” is a great song, but I really think “The Ballad of Only You and the Can Prevent Forest Fires” wins by the width of a matchhead.

Release Date

2001

The Cover Art

I don’t think that’s a physiologically realistic thumb position. The drawing is crude. I like the 1950’s aesthetic of the album title, and the sort of superhero font used for the band name. I don’t know. It’s decent.

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