Glandular Disorder

Just when you think you have the death of rock figured out, you discover the Glands.

If timing is everything, trying to coordinate a musical career with the current cultural zeitgeist is a task best left to the Bushes, the Matchbox 20s and the Creeds of the rock world. After all, it's never been difficult to hop someone else's train, be it, respectively, Nirvana's, Pearl Jam's or, uh, Pearl Jam's. But pity Ross Shapiro, leader of the Glands and the poor schlub who dared to release a fantastic indie rock album in a year that every major music magazine published a hack proclaiming the tired old rock is dead bullshit as fact, not opinion.

Indie rock in all its forms had died a year or so ago, and electronica--"the rave generation!"--was set to finally take over the world and render actual instruments obsolete. But any jackass who owns a Stones, Pavement or Robert Johnson album could have clued the journos in to the fact that rock has undergone and will continue to undergo a hell of a lot of changes along its ragged path, yet (say it with me now) rock and roll will never die. Guitars have been in existence for far longer than anyone reading this, and they're not going anywhere anytime soon.

But then, you already know that. Because this year, according to the same folks who were dropping e and sucking on pacifiers a year and a half ago, the Strokes and the White Stripes (and likely, no one else) have brought the cool back to rock and roll, have saved it, if you will, from the cold, evil machinery of technology. And while it's true that the Strokes and the White Stripes are both phenomenal bands, if their albums had come out in the midst of ambivalence from the music press seen a mere year ago, would anyone care right now?

It's a tough question and one that requires both answers: Yes, because those who make it a point to seek out bands that fall under the radar of the average chart-scanner would still discover them; No, because the same chart- scanner would never discover them.

All of this, of course, gleams right off the back of Athens, Ga.'s Ross Shapiro, who boasts that winning personality combination of modesty and self-deprecation, and his Glands, who released the Best Album of 2000 You Haven't Heard for exactly these reasons.

Speaking on telephone from his regular gig at Athens' School Kids record store ("gotta have a day job"), Shapiro explains how he moved to Athens 20 years ago to go to art school, and pursued a post-college art life for a while before getting the rock itch, which truly was trial by fire: He had no idea what the hell he was doing when he went in to record, didn't really play an instrument or anything.

The result was the shambolic, happy accident of a debut, Double Thriller (Bar None) in 1997, an album that hinged on its let's-get-a-bunch-of-friends-and-go-into-the-studio-and-see-what-happens-if-we-try-to-make-a-record charm as much as anything. (Incidentally, it was the band itself that floated a rumor that the album was mixed on the same board that was used for the Mutant of Pop's Thriller, hence the album's title. Today, Shapiro fesses up to the fact that it was the same type of mixing board, but defends his rumor-mongering by stating that "If enough people know a rumor then it is true. I use the Rod Stewart stomach pump story to justify that." You can't blame him for attempting a little self-mythology, especially under the circumstances.)

Last year a more solid lineup convened to make what would become the band's second, self-titled release. The album was released on major indie label Capricorn, once home to such diverse acts as Cake, Widespread Panic, 311 and Vic Chesnutt. It received rave reviews across the board (but nothing substantial enough to break the death-of-rock vibe dished out in healthier doses than a few column inches in Spin issuing a 9 out of 10 rating). It also didn't help when, a mere three months after the album's initial release, Capricorn decided to undergo a major overhaul (read: scaling back) of its roster, and change its name--for financial reasons, natch--to Velocette, a move that effectively removed The Glands from shelves for nearly a year while the tangles were combed out. (In the end, only two bands from Capricorn were retained for Velocette: Jucifer and the Glands.)

And so it is that the Glands find themselves back on the road to promote the same album that brought them westward some 15 months ago, when they performed a sorely underattended show at Solar Culture, and just as the disc finally gets its props in the form of a rerelease bearing the Velocette tag. Since you missed it the first time around, you'd be well-advised--now that rock is again alive and kicking--to discover its charms on your own.

The opener, "Livin' Was Easy," a study of longing for a life you never really liked to begin with, is nearly worth the price of admission alone, oozing distilled slacker cool with warp-speed guitar so wobbly you'd swear it was slide, and a chorus that asks, in a winning, nasally Beck-meets-Wayne Coyne whine, "Why did I go? / I had it so easy / I had a room of my own / And the weather was warm" before deciding, "I didn't have much fun / but at least I'm clean."

The band consistently drops its cup into the same musical wells as its Athens neighbors of the Elephant 6 collective--i.e., bubblegum pop of the '60s and '70s--but where the E6ers often strive for convincing replication--attempting to make it indiscernible from what's influenced it--the Glands sound undeniably modern, filtering the sum of pop music history through a post-Pavement monacle and spitting out tweaked infectiousness in the process.

Like several of the songs, "When I Laugh" begins with a touch of studio trickery before launching into infectious verses echoed by sugary "doo-doo-doo-doo"s, and boasts a chorus that starts out, "It only hurts me when I laugh / All the way to the bank," but ends up, "It only hurts me when I laugh / So 'don't laugh' is the best you can say."

"I Can See My House From Here" asks the question: What does it sound like when a bunch of Southern white boys try to get funky? (Answer: understated; in a rather bizarre twist, the band originally subtly sampled the Four Seasons' "December 1963 [Oh What a Night]" for the track, which got the go-ahead from Frankie Valli, but was nixed by the song's writer, resulting in a semi-rewrite of the tune.)

The Glands sound a bit like another great band you haven't heard, Creeper Lagoon, which only serves to remind the listener how sad it is that so many fine bands should go so criminally ignored. But in the end the song is the thing, and as long as bands like the Glands are putting out records full of good songs, we can only hope that they'll get their due in the next wave of media hype.

Buoyed by a couple of recent high-profile tours with the likes of Modest Mouse ("Playing in front of 1,500 people who don't like you is still better than playing for three people who don't like you") and the notion that they're still learning things every time they step into the studio ("We try to not replicate ourselves as best we can; we try things that we're not all that familiar with," says Shapiro), the band's next album is due in early 2002. If they're lucky, this time around the stars will be aligned just right and the zeitgeist will be ready and waiting.