on May 27, 2002
There are some things in the world of punk rock that you can always expect:
Epitaph will always mass produce skatepunk.
Fat Wreck will always mass produce SoCal punk.
Lookout! will always mass produce pop-punk.
Funny thing is, lately most labels aren't going by their previous moniker. Epitaph's aquirement of artists as diverse as Tricky and Tom Waits [and the rumored signing of The Promise Ring] is dispelling rumors that they're only a skatepunk label. In turn, Fat has signed bands like Sick Of It All and Rise Against, who don't really fit into the NOFX/Lagwagon style. So what does Lookout! do in response? Gives us new releases from bands like Bis and the Alkaline Trio [whle the latter could fit in the label's prior experience, the former most certainly was new ground]. And to keep up the momentum of change, Lookout! puts out, hands down, the best pop album of the year.
Ted Leo is amazing. I should stop there, but for the sake of humoring those of you who haven't picked up the album yet, I'll go on. Ted's whole family is involved in indie music it seems; his brother Danny fronts The Holy Childhood and brother Chris has put in time in the Van Pelt and The Lapse. Ted used to be in a band called Chisel. Some of you may have heard of them; they were a very popular mod-punk hybrid that was around for the majority of the nineties. They disbanded sometime around 1997, and that's when Ted's solo career began.
To be honest with you, the first time I saw and heard Ted Leo I hated him. It was in Bloomington, IL on my 18th birthday when he opened for the Alkaline Trio. At the time I was on crutches with a broken ankle, and hearing this weird guy play just an electric guitar and have a drum machine play generic beats behind him was not on my "things to hear" list. So I wrote him off, as I'm sure many of us have to our now favorite artists.
A year later, my brother emails me from Russia and tells me to buy the new Ted Leo album, as it's one of the best albums of 2001. I am wary. He tells me that he will completely reimburse me if I don't like it. You can't go wrong with a deal like that, right? So I headed out and picked up a copy. With great trepidation I put the CD in. I was then forced to eat a big bite of crow and throw away my receipt, as the music contained on the disc completely knocked me for a loop.
The album's 12 tracks, all with a full band, range from jangly-guitar foot-tappers ["Biomusicology" and "Under The Hedge"] to head on rock ["Timorous Me" and "Parallel Or Together?"], as well as throwing some dub and 70's dancehall punk influences in there ["St. John the Divine" and "The Great Communicator"] and even a Beatles-esque ballad ["The Gold Finch and The Red Oak Tree"]. The flaws in this album are incredibly minimal -- in fact, they add to the overall enjoyability of the music. For example, at the beginning of "Dial Up", you can hear the quiet squeak of the bass drum pedal as it kicks off the song. It's honestly one of my favorite parts of the record, as it demonstrates that Ted and the Pharmacists don't need fancy studio techniques and Pro Tools to make an incredibly enjoyable pop album. The addition of strings on some tracks only add to the all around pleasure factor that this album gives out, whereas with most bands it bogs the song down and makes them look overly sappy. Ted's guitar playing is beyond top notch, as evidenced in tracks like 12-string guitared "Under The Hedge" and the bluesy-yet-upbeat "Timorous Me." While the album does contain a full band [of rotating members, most famous being Brendan of Fugazi and Ted's brother Danny], you can definitely feel that some of the songs had been played by just Ted for some time. For example, "My Vien Ilin" sails some pretty rough lyrical seas with just Ted and a lonesome electric guitar, until a cacophony of sound kicks in at the the two minute mark. It sounds like something Ted had been working on by himself for some time, and when he rehearsed with a band he found that solid ending he was waiting for. The end of the song seriously sounds as crazy and loud as something At The Drive-In would do. Definite thumbs up.
This honestly is the best pop record of 2001, and pretty much has a lock in my top five for the year. Do yourself a favor: branch out as much as all your favorite record labels have been doing, and pick up a copy of this CD. It's the feel-good hit of the year.
on April 19, 2004
Early summer, 2001. Some friends and I are stuffed into a crowded living room eagerly anticipating the performance by tonight's headliners, Q And Not U. None of us have heard of this 'Ted Leo guy' that is opening up the show, but I figure I should check him out. The members of his band set up and once everything sounds good (enough for playing in a living room), they set down their instruments and walk off into the crowd. The one guy left standing with his guitar steps up to the mic, introducing himself as Ted Leo. He briefly mentions the history of the cover song he's about to play, then jumps right into a solo rendition of Dirty Old Town. "This guy ain't half bad, he's got history, which is what most punk rockers don't have today", I thought to myself. Ted approaches the mic before beginning his next song and suggests that the people in the room move closer. I ablige and wind up within smelling distance from Ted. "That's my man" he says, pointing at me. What happened next is a little blurry. I'm sure that I remember hearing the opening chords of Timorous Me and I'm sure I remember my jaw hitting the rotting wood floor. Halfway through the song, the other members of his band come back up and flesh out the song for its final reprise. I remember little of their set from that point on, other than the simple fact that my mind had just been blown. I had been privy to some of the greatest songs I had ever heard, songs that would comprise The Tyrrany of Distance record to be released later in the year. The songs were immediate, catchy, intelligent and were aware of themselves. Ted knows his influences. They are Bad Brains, Thin Lizzy and Billy Bragg. The show went on to be a ton of fun with Q And Not U playing two sets. But there was something about that 'Ted Leo guy.' Those songs were just too good, I thought. Within six months, I would find myself physically unable to stop listening to The Tyrrany of Distance and traveling to see Ted and the Pharmacists whenever possible. I've been told that I only like Ted Leo because he's a punk rocker. That if he didn't come out of the hardcore punk scene, I wouldn't pay notice. In one vague sense, that is essentially true, because if Ted weren't a punk, this music wouldn't exist the way it does. This record is the most perfect synthesis of his pop, punk, protest music and dub/reggae influences that I could ever imagine. This is the best record that Lookout Records has ever put out. Yeah, it's even better than THAT one... All I can really suggest is that you do yourself a favor and get this record any way possible.
on September 18, 2001
I may have a bias because I've been listening to Ted since his pre-Chisel days in the 1980s, but knowing where he came from makes where he's at in 2001 even more enjoyable. Since Ted's first solo record a few years back, he has cleaned up his rough edges but does not lose any of the punk edginess found on this record. His breadth of knowledge of popular music gives him a wealth of influences to draw on as he works to create the coolest pop songs.
I think that in the past, I've compared him to a cross between Paul Weller of the Jam & The Style Council and Mac McCaughan of Superchunk, and that is the most dead-on comparison I can think of. Ted tries to reach the soulful vocal range of Mr. Weller while maintaining the nervous energy of Superchunk, and does it quite well while forging ahead with his own sound.
Unlike Ted's past records that had a small smattering of weak songs thrown in the mix, every song on this disc is a killer. One of my favorite records of 2001, so far.
on June 25, 2002
This CD just keeps growing on me and surprising me with its (read "Ted's") variety of sound, great musicianship, and sensitive and concise lyric talent. I can't get these wonderful songs outta my head (and I love it)! One or two cuts have overly-long 'sustained feedback outros' (sometimes producers wanna get cute with the 'love us cause we're casual about this recording thing' approach) but the big picture is that this album solidly delivers the goods! It rocks, it sings, it does everything.
on December 18, 2001
...this album is smash-tastic. yes, so good that it inspires one to invent new words to describe it. 'biomusicology' fades in with some kind of charming youthful enthusiasm, while 'you could die' ends it with a stripped down, raw sound. and 'stove by a whale' has enough heavy guitar to keep even the rockinest dudes happy. smash-tastic, just smash-tastic...go to the 'buy it' button and click it, and you'll love yourself...
on July 16, 2001
Ted Leo is not really what you'd expect from Lookout records, but this album is surprisingly good. The pure-and-simple rock is well polished with great melodies and Ted's voice doesn't suck. There isn't a song on this album that I don't like. If you get a chance to see them in person, you won't be disappointed.
on September 17, 2004
This album is amazing. Anyone can really like this music. It's upbeat, powerful, and at times can rock out. There are songs like Biomusicology which just give you an upbeat awesome feeling or there are the awesome guitar riffs in Stove By a Whale. It's amazing from beginning to end. Let's just say "had i never come across the vastness of pavement", I would be less of a person!
on September 1, 2004
I absolutely agree with all of the comments made by my fellow reviewers, and I probably won't have anything new to offer hear in my review, but this album, it moves me so much that I just have to add my own two cents. I've known about Ted Leo and the Pharmacists for over a year now, but I never actually heard their music until I saw them live last month at the Cafe Metropolis in Wilkes Barre, PA. The show was spectacular, but Ted's greatness didn't really dawn on me until days later when I started hearing 'Biomusicology' over and over again in my head. As soon as this madness began, I immediately went to my local record store to get 'The Tyranny of Distance', but they were all sold out of Ted Leo cds, so I drove an hour out of my way to the next closest place where I could get it. After finally obtaining the object of my passions, I listened the hell out of it for days on end. Biomusicology and Timorous Me are honestly two of the greatest songs I've ever heard. And other numbers from this unbelievable record like 'Parallel or Together?', 'Stove By A Whale', 'The Great Communicator' and 'The Gold Finch and the Red Oak Tree' are all breathtaking as well. Simply put, Ted's music is so ballsy, so full of guts and glory, that it'll just knock you right out. Definitely check this out.
on October 20, 2001
2001 isn't over yet but I'm confident nothing better will hit the racks this year! This is a brilliant pop/rock album and there are definitely no fillers! I must admit that "the tyranny of distance" was my very first exposure to Ted Leo's genius but allegedly the guy has been around for quite a long time (about 10 years which, it goes without saying, is like a lifetime in indie terms). Witty songwriting, infectious hooks and a bit of punk energy to keep the whole thing upbeat, whatelse do you need?
on May 6, 2002
This disc brings big rock boulders to your turntable. It's super-rocked-out Alex Chilton. Buy it as if rock-n-roll depended upon it.