Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Shawn Rosenblatt, the lone constant in the Chicago band Netherfriends, is some kind of a mastermind. The young man with the slightly slumped shoulders and the ever-changing group of friends and hired guns has such an expert way with indie rock arrangement and with the tricky business of sounding both unfamiliar and like something that we've been intimate with time and again. It's as if we could recall his songs by closing our eyes and checking in with our olfactory sensibilities and we should be able to arrive at a clear picture - like a demented circus train, or a hammer hitting a bullet sending a gorgeous distress signal up from a life raft to explode over a vast and terrifying ocean. He seems to have gone out with a net and corralled all of the tails of every comet that's come close enough to Earth to nab, bundled them and then shocked them into weird motions and dance maneuvers. They are trained to serve his songs loyally and to add some creative energies as well, making the workload less taxing. Netherfriends songs involve a combination of a few things: there are the jumpy expressions of literate aggression, the warm, hollow-bodied guitar work, the louds and the softs, the bridges of gooey ooos and ahhs and baaas, the feelings of desperate continuance and a countenance that most likely pays the closest attention to those gooey bridges when they're spiked with some kind of illicit liquor. From one song, we're led to believe that there's nothing good enough to get out of the shower or the bed, which reminds me of what sounded to be a suicidal disc jockey on the local radio station yesterday afternoon making what he probably thought was an insightful, rhetorical question, "Ever wonder how those little miracles, like how you got out of bed this morning to face the day, happen?" Rosenblatt takes that stance only mildly on "Worean Kar," a song that is partially inspired by the grandfather who helped put all of his grandchildren through college with the money that he made as a professional photographer, shooting the Korean War and as the go-to guy for New York City mobsters when their loved ones were getting married. The jaunty number, which begins with some piano trippings - those artful stumbles of someone so good that there's no reason to care about the frayed ends and pieces - and gallops through like a pissy, but pretty number that Tim Kasher would write. Then the barroom piano's back after a lazy fog storm in the middle of the song, all before Rosenblatt just starts singing," Korean War," over and over. These are songs that all of the young 20-somethings out there can relate to in that the characters are searching for some breaks, looking for a way to make ends meet both mentally and externally. Rosenblatt lets his songs hit you between the eyes, in the guts, across the heart and knife you in the back. They're full of betrayal - personal betrayal and natural betrayal that really just amounts to how the cards fall. He asks for an unknown someone to pour him some slack, which could just be an alcoholic metaphor, or it could be seen as something so easy that it could happen just as a glass of milk is poured into a glass. He sings, "I always wanted something else and nothing more," and it's that unmistakable desire that shines through all of these songs of tough love and tougher skin.
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