Graded on a Curve:
Direct Link HERE
To scratch an itch or cure some ills, sometimes a dose of high-energy, vividly-produced power pop is just what’s called for. Sure, there’s no shortage of the style to take care of these needs, but if one’s also seeking a taste of the new, then one should look no further than the self-released latest by the Seattle supergroup Stag. Beefed-up, hooky, unabashedly hi-fi as produced at Hoboken’s Water Music by John Agnello, and sporting a cover photo of pure inspired excellence, Midtown Sizzler is out now on compact disc and digital.
The bigness of Stag’s sound can frankly be a little disconcerting to ears inundated by muffled, grizzled, or generally more contained aural climes. But befitting the dude getting down on its cover, Midtown Sizzler is intended to burst out of speakers, to elevate gatherings, and make car rides something more than just a trip between two points. And given the experience of Stag’s membership, it’s quite likely their live show goes down a storm.
Who’s in this band? Well, Steve Mack, formerly of That Petrol Emotion is on vocals, for starters. There’s also Ben London of Alcohol Funnycar and Sanford Arms on guitar and backing vox, John Randolph of The Cops on guitar, Pete Everett of Tuffy and The Mellors on bass, and Rob Dent of Jackie on Acid and Sanford Arms on drums.
If one persists in thinking Stag comes on too strong, the way they extend a complementary batch of influences, namely pre-operatic Who, Badfinger, pre-Third Big Star, ’70s power pop in general, Cheap Trick, and even Guided by Voices, will be the make-or-break element in the scenario; rather than strive for a classicist or reverent vibe, the band wraps their loves up into a package that’s solidly contempo, at least within the guitar pop template.
This is immediately apparent in the hooky, radio/ playlist friendly punch of “Pharaoh,” though the band’s emphasis on the left side of hyphen in power-pop asserts itself just as quickly. This is a melodic situation, but it also possesses heaviness (a factor magnified by ample washes of guitar), which surely relates to John Agnello (who’s produced Dinosaur Jr. amongst others) being brought on board.
Maybe it just the electric piano flourishes throughout “Come On,” but the song really wafts some Faces-esque fumes. More specifically, it’s reminiscent of a well-loved regional act with long-internalized Faces-style swagger reformulated into tunes they spat back out on weekends in clubs and with any luck onto a record or two. London wrote all the songs here, and this knowledge lends a slight auteur touch to a sturdily band-ish endeavor, the hometown roots of which are magnified by two tracks being recorded by Jack Endino.
Instead of the grunge that Endino helped shape as a knob-twiddler (and as member of Skin Yard), “Bedazzler” gets infused with horns, the song aptly assessed as a glam-rock strut with strategic sustained outbursts and a wicked guitar solo. Again, this is not for all tastes, but for anyone contemplating dressing up as Marc Bolan this Halloween, “Bedazzler” should land right in the zone.
“Rosemarie” scales things back just a bit, connecting like a mix of Bomp!-era anthemic charging and GBV during their TVT period, and “Runner,” the disc’s other Endino-recorded cut, emerges as a simple vessel of hooks, not unlike the A-side to some self-recorded cult 45, only to eventually soar in the manner of those early ’80s power-pop tracks that somehow managed to get absorbed by commercial radio.
This retention of the basic root spark and then choosing to go bold is ultimately the recipe to Stag’s success, though the splendid “Figure You Out” does lean toward the classic power-pop paradigm. It sets up a sort of bait and switch maneuver, as “Pictures” opens with a plunge into piano-driven, lighters-aloft Cheap Trick-ian balladry, or alternately, mid-’70s pomp-rock, though it thankfully conjures up enough Badfinger-like gusto in its midsection to keep matters moving.
For the finale to this too brief full-length, “Already Know” leans a smidge too close to ’90s Brit Alt action of a vaguely Stonesy stripe, which is no great crime, but a knockout is what’s called for, and along with “Pictures,” it does chalk up Midtown Sizzler as a shade less than outstanding. But these are minor hiccups in Stag’s surprisingly persuasive melodic rock designs, as there are outstanding moments. For a good time one need look no further.
GRADED ON A CURVE:
Direct Link HERE
Stag, “Runner” (self-released). Midtown Sizzler, the new album by Seattle supergroup Stag, is loaded with instant hits, and I encourage you to revel in its power-pop ebullience throughout the summer and onward (it hits streets August 4). But for now, let’s focus on “Runner,” because, as a runner, I’m biased. The song busts out of the gate like a 400-meter Olympic champ, with vocalist Steve Mack (That Petrol Emotion) emoting with boisterous tenderness while guitarist Ben London (who wrote every song here), guitarist John Randolph, bassist Pete Everett, and drummer Rob Dent flood your pleasure centers with chugging riffs and tumbling grooves. The result sounds like Exile on Main Street-era Rolling Stones covering power-pop deities the Shoes. “I’m a runner/Get me HIIIIIGGGHHH” is the chorus to beat this year. (Side note: My two favorites on Midtown Sizzler—“Runner” and the glorious Glitter Group homage “Bedazzler”—were produced by Jack Endino. The others, which are also superb, were handled by John Agnello, who’s manned the boards for Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile, and others.)
Here's the first half of our set – that's all we got before the camera conked out. 🙁
Posted by STAG on Wednesday, August 9, 2017
In this edition of Tell Me About That Track, we catch up with Ben London of five-piece rock outfit STAG, a group currently promoting its latest 7-inch single, the T-Rex-indebted “The Bedazzler,” through Mike McCready’s HockeyTalkter Records (find it via Pearl Jam’s site here). You can hear them play it live this Friday at Darrell’s Tavern 7th anniversary party.
In three sentences or more, tell us the story of the band: This is the true story…of seven strangers…picked to live in a house…and have their lives taped…to find out what happens…when people stop being polite…and start getting real…The Real World. Sorry, that’s the Real World. As for STAG, we’ve all known each other for years, decided to form a band that was based on the scientific question, “What would a can of Rainier sound like plugged into a Marshall Stack?” and have lived with the consequences ever since.
In three sentences or more, tell us the story of the track: The Bedazzler started out of a joke-filled conversation I had with our bass player Pete about the old commercials for “the BeDazzler.” I’m a big ’70s glam fan and started joking around like I was T-Rex’s Marc Bolan saying “I’m the Bedazzler” while doing wizard hand moves. That punch line stuck with me and I sat down a few days later and wrote the song. They lyrics practically wrote themselves. Once we started working it out as a band it got larger and more epic at every turn. Add some horns, some Gary Glitter-esque “Heys!” and a few guitar solos, what do you get? The Bedazzler!
What’s next? We’re headed out to New York City in early February to make a record with one of our favorite producers John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Hold Steady, Sonic Youth, Buffalo Tom). We’ll be producing the 2nd Annual Summer Stag Party Aug 5th at Slim’s (that in 2016 featured Big Star’s Jody Stephens), and playing some other shows here and there. For 2017, it’s basically just keeping the pedal to the metal and faking Workers’ Comp injuries to get pain meds from Urgent Care. We have a single release show on February 17th as part of the celebration for Darrell’s Tavern’s 7th anniversary.
Stag has been getting some airplay on WFMU, a killer station in New Jersey. We’re actually going to be out there this week, so we’ll be swinging by to chat with Evan “Funk” Davies. He’s been kind enough to spin our track the past couple of weeks, and we love the chatter that’s been happening on their live chat page.
If that isn’t great enough, we inspired all sorts of punning around crafting the week before! (click to zoom)
If you want to listen in, we’ll be on at around 11PM eastern time, 8PM pacific. You can find the live stream (and of course you should always listen to Evan’s show) at wfmu.org.
The Crocodile Presents:
The Modern Era
All-Ages + Bar w/I.D.
At The Crocodile
Thanks Chris Estey for the kind words. “Just got this slinky, crunchy, very naughty STAG 45 in my box (eek!). It’s a true delight, a great sample of the superb vinyl releases from HockeyTalkter Records. I’m sent back into a summer night of my past, Columbian pot-wafting trailer park yard under glittering coals of stars, sharing a sleeping bag with Janie, whose brother John made out with Rhoda nearby in their own bag. Summer stoned and deep tongue kissing for the first time, and the chorus of this song tickles like anything by the Sweet and stomps like pop Slade. The flip “Runner” has a buzzy Badfinger jog to it (“I’ve been making the same old jokes / living on rum and cokes / get me high!!”); both choruses on this new single are true boss. Thanks boys! Right on”.- Chris Estey