Sweet Apple, the new project from J. Mascis and John
Petkovic, sounds a lot more like Cobra Verde (Petkovic’s band) than Dinosaur Jr.
On debut album Love & Desperation here are occasional, inflammatory surges of
Mascis’ inimitable guitar, mostly on “I’ve Got a Feeling (That Won’t Change),” and
in a sidewinding break in “Crawling Over Bodies”. Still for the most part,
Mascis stays in the background and seems mostly to be playing drums (as he does
in Witch). Petkovic has even brought along Tim Parnin, his guitarist from Cobra
Verde. Dave Sweetapple, who is also in Witch, plays bass, but you won’t hear a
lot of that band’s sprawling, sludgy metal here. Instead, the tunes are mostly
of the glam-leaning, power-chord studded, 1970s-referencing ilk of Cobra Verde.
Not that that’s a bad thing. In fact, after an extended break and a rough
personal stretch, it looks like Petkovic has got his mojo back. If Love & Desperation were a Cobra
Verde album, it would be the best one since Easy
Listening, far more consistent and hard-hitting than 2009’s Haven’t Slept All Year.
Maybe it’s not surprising that Sweet Apple sounds so Cobra
Verde-ish when you think about how the band came about. It’s quite a story. Petkovic’s
mother had just died after a long illness. He went for a long drive, starting
and heading east. He got a phone call, out of the blue, from his friend Dave
Sweetapple, and decided, after a short conversation, to meet up in Brattleboro, Vermont,
where Sweetapple lived. J. Mascis, a couple of towns south in Amherst, came too. They decided to work
together and Petkovic wrote four songs on his way back to Cleveland. Back home, he kept writing, and enlisted
Parnin to help him flesh out the songs. The
album was recorded in Amherst and Cleveland, but up until a gig at SXSW a few
weeks ago, the band had never actually played together, in the same room, at
the same time. So Love & Desperation is a bit of a hybrid: part therapy, part old friends jamming, part one-off
super group. It sounds like the MC5 filtered through Badfinger with little bits
of Sweet poking through – and if you miss the large-gestured, hard-rocking
anthems of 1970s radio rock, this is exactly what you want.
Specifics? “Do You
Remember” rides roughshod over the raunchiest and crunchiest guitar riff, Billy
Preston-ish piano rampaging in the background. “Flying Up the Mountain” stomps
out its bad-boy come ons “I was drunk
when I was six/a Marxist at eight/I fucked at 13, but baby I was born too
late.” “Crawling Over Bodies” hazards a falsetto over a rain of California guitar
jangle. It’s almost all tremendous fun (I could do without the flaccid “Dead
Moon” but that’s the only skipper), nothing stunted or minimalist about it.
It’s like bedroom taping and lo-fi and dance punk and glo-wave never happened.
What a good thing.
Standout Tracks: “Do You Remember”, “I’ve Got a Feeling (That Won’t Change)”, “Flying Up the
Mountain” JENNIFER KELLY