Usefully Modern

Dont miss your chance to rip off the FM Knives.

Not quite one year ago, out at Industrial Coffee, a respectable crowd gathered to see a band that had been described as Buzzcockian Fuck You Pop for the New Proletariat. When this band took the "stage," that's exactly what the people got: Drummer Ed Carroll's speeding, snappy beats and hyper fills caused a handful of happy seizures; Zack Olson's bass tunneled into every chest cavity in the house; singer Jason Patrone spit out spot-on acerbic wit with the promised Pete Shelley-style bite; and Chris Woodhouse, looking excellently bored and completely checked out, picked out some of the coolest melodies ever while mentally cataloging apple brown betty recipes. The man never once looked at his guitar. Later, when headliners A-Frames were midway through their set, and drummer Lars Finnberg, bone-tired from three consecutive shows and perhaps a teeny-tiny bit past his legal limit of PBRs, petered out in the middle of one of his mesmerizingly mechanical marches, it was Woodhouse who patted him affably on the right shoulder and excused him of his duties (turns out he's the A-Frames' chief engineer). The proletariat looked on with amazement as the substitute drummer finished out the set with the locals and then shrugged like it was all in a day's work.

The four gentlemen from Sacramento could have passed for community college math teachers, but they rocked like soured Brits in one of Thatcher's ghettos, and they nearly drank the Industrial dry. They are the FM Knives, and their perfectly titled debut album, Useless and Modern (Moo-La-La Records), is damn near perfect.

You have to understand that we've been in so many terrible, terrible bands that we've kind of learned what not to do at this point. I mean really terrible," says frontman Patrone of his educated cohorts. Formed in the aftermath of a Halloween party that featured the majority of the current lineup posing as the Undertones, the FM Knives became the FM Knives because in their corner of the world, there really isn't anything else to do.

"Our little subsection encompasses the hand-to-mouth 30-year-olds that listen to the Kinks, Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, King Tubby, Supergrass, and Neil Diamond on or in stuffy, smoky, beery porches and kitchens. There's a lot of sarcasm but very little irony. We're all too ugly and dumb to be anything but people who buy records and play in bands. It's either that or become hand models. Chris is the producer-guy- about-town. The rest of us are useless, " reports Patrone.

And modern, no? Though you'd have to be cracked in the head to miss the similarities between a song like the FMK's "Down the Street" and the Buzzcocks' "Why Can't I Touch It?," there's no way you can dismiss this stuff as revisionist. Songs like "Cassavettes vs. the Moneygoround" (from the Estrogen EP, which sold out of every store in Seattle in two minutes flat) only start from the tried-and-true 4/4 pop formula; as often as the FM Knives fall back on the third-verse-same-as-the-first recipe, they'll throw a curveball after the second chorus and segue into another tune completely before coming back around again. And lyrically, Patrone is like a juvenile delinquent with a library card.

"I enjoy ripping off singers like Terry Hall and Howard Devoto, who can write really pretty, singsongy melodies filled with the cruelest intentions, but at the same time are somehow sentimental. I recommend complete resignation and permanent self-doubt to help get the lyrics out of your head," says the man who sings about William Tell in one song and cries, "The only time I ever felt free/was when I jerked it in the alley," in another.

The term "respectable crowd," when used to describe the paying audience at Industrial Coffee, means more than 10 but less than 30. Read: Most of you missed that show. Since that night in Georgetown (which now seems like little more than a really cool dream I had back in middle school), the FM Knives have enjoyed a steady buzz; their first record made the year-end top-10 lists of every critic who heard it. Only problem was, most critics didn't even get a chance to check it out because the limited first pressing sold out quickly. As we speak, Broken Rekids is reissuing the thing, the band is writing songs for their second LP (tentatively titled We Could've Been Bigger Than the Bananas, an obscure reference to both the Television Personalities and another among the aforementioned loafing Sacto subset), and, after this week's Seattle show, they'll split with the A-Frames for a U.S. tour during which both bands will hit the Chicago Blackout with the likes of the Piranhas, the Lost Sounds, the Hunches, and the Spits.

Useless and modern? I guess so, but 25 years from now someone will probably be ripping them off, and if you're at Zak's on Saturday, you'll know why.

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