Cracker’s tenth and most recent studio effort, the double-album, Berkeley To Bakersfield, finds this uniquely American band traversing two different sides of the California landscape — the northern Bay area and further down-state in Bakersfield.
Despite being less than a five-hour drive from city to city, musically, these two regions couldn’t be further apart from one another. In the late ’70s and ’80s a harder-edged style of rock music emerged from the Bay area, while Bakersfield is renowned for its own iconic twangy country music popularized, most famously, by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard in the ’60s and ’70s. Yet despite these differences, they are both elements that Cracker’s two cofounders, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, have embraced to some degree on nearly every one of their studio albums over the last two decades. On Berkeley To Bakersfield, however, instead of integrating these two genres together within one disc, they’ve neatly compartmentalized them onto their own respective regionally-titled LPs.
As Lowery explains, “On the Berkeley disc the band is the original Cracker lineup — Davey Faragher, Michael Urbano, Johnny and myself. This is the first time this lineup has recorded together in almost 20 years. We began recording this album at East Bay Recorders in Berkeley, CA. For this reason we chose to stylistically focus this disc on the music we most associate with the East Bay: Punk and Garage with some funky undertones. To further match our sense of place we often took an overtly political tone in the lyrics.”
“This Bakersfield disc represents the ‘California country’ side of the band. Throughout the band’s 24-year history we’ve dabbled in Country and Americana but this time we wanted to pay homage to the particular strain of Country and Country-Rock music that emerges from the inland valleys of California.”
Cracker has been described as a lot of things over the years: alt-rock, Americana, insurgent-country, and have even had the terms punk and classic-rock thrown at them. But more than anything Cracker are survivors. Cofounders Lowery and Hickman have been at it for a quarter of a century — amassing ten studio albums, multiple gold records, thousands of live performances, hit songs that are still in current radio rotation around the globe (“Low,” “Euro-Trash Girl,” “Get Off This” and “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me” to name just a few), and a worldwide fan base — that despite the major sea-changes within the music industry — continues to grow each year.
Crackling garage rock meets literate indie rock in a sound marinated in the extremes of New York City on Music For Outcasts, the full-length debut and first UK/European release for Leland Sundries. It came out in June, 2016 on L’Echiquier Records and placed Leland Sundries in the context of bands that combine literacy with overdrive such as Silver Jews, Deer Tick, Jack Oblivian, The Hold Steady, Johnny Thunders, The Modern Lovers and Ezra Furman.
Leland Sundries is the portmanteau under which frontman Nick Loss-Eaton and an ever-evolving roster of Brooklyn, NYC musicians produce the kind of careering, scrappy garage rock which has -via nascent EP releases- already earned the band nods from The New York Times and Time Out NY. Music For Outcasts itself was shaped by the aftermath from emergency open heart surgery. Fairly white-knuckle, stare-down-your-mortality fare for anyone, never mind someone barely out of their twenties, and a live-it-out experience which bears its blackly humorous mark across Music For Outcasts.
Studio recordings were then made in an unheated loft studio in Nick’s old neighbourhood of Greenpoint, in a former creamery building nestled next to a bridge between Brooklyn and Queens, much of it recorded on analogue tape.
The surf-rock wash of ‘Greyhound From Reno’ zeros in on the pill-hazed, midnight exodus of a shady character skipping town. Whilst the track lampoons its sleazy, washed up protagonist, Loss-Eaton delivers its underlying inference direct to the mirror, written as it was at the tail end of his addiction; ‘It’s impressionistic, non-linear, but that sense you can’t outrun yourself is palpable’. The track came eventually came together in aptly chaotic fashion during late-night recording takes; ‘We turned out all the lights in the studio and it got weird. I sang and screamed until I went hoarse, and it felt like an exorcism of panic.’
Elsewhere on Music For Outcasts, Loss-Eaton turns the microscope on his own scars with a similarly unflinching candour. ‘Freckle Blues’ (written whilst New York was holed up during Hurricane Irene) equates the elapse of time since a relationship’s demise and the guilty aftermath. And yet beyond the more personal scorched earth the record rakes over, there is a wider resonance within the world of misfits and missed connections that Music For Outcasts inhabits. Fittingly for one who snatches fragments of lyric ideas from overheard conversations & glimpses into the lives of others, the characters and vignettes which Loss-Eaton summons here are so vivid as to become almost tangible. ‘Stripper From Bensonhurst’ mines far beyond the attendant stereotypes to chart the push/pull between a grim domestic semblance of normality far more intolerable to this woman than her nocturnal ‘other life’, whilst the taut, Spoon-esque snap and swivel of ‘Radiator Sabotage’ paints a world of burnt-out glamour as palpable as any of Lou Reed’s succinct dispatches. Even the track titles themselves – ‘Studebaker’, ‘Wallace ID’ – function almost like projector slides, brief flashes of narrative which demand conjecture.
Two studio EPs, a vinyl/digital 7” single, three music videos, and national US touring have already earned Leland Sundries praise from Pop Matters, New Yorker, Magnet, American Songwriter, Village Voice, Time Out NY, Baeble Music, No Depression, Blurt, and Boston Phoenix. The band has performed at Campout Fest (Joshua Tree, CA); taped a Daytrotter session; and shared stages with Spirit Family Reunion, Todd Snider, Marah, Eef Barzelay (leader of Clem Snide), Taylor Hollingsworth (of Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band) and Cracker.