Real talk: If you were to peruse my cassette collection circa 1996, you’d perhaps catch a glimpse of St. Johnny’s “Speed Is Dreaming” somewhere in the middle of the pile. I say “middle” because it didn’t reach the top all that often. See, I was a young rogue then, and the ladies mostly dug all those Pixies tapes I had (they really didn’t get Pavement or GBV either, for some reason), and none were particularly enamored at my “sorta Sonic Youth-y but not!” platitudes I lobbed at Bill Whitten and his band of NYC rascals. But it was their loss, and everyone else’s loss, because St. Johnny got the major shaft in the end, ceasing to exist and becoming Grand Mal, among other things (And by the “major shaft,” I mean the “major label shaft” – St. Johnny were DGC castoffs in the era of the great post-Nirvana cash grab. I paid almost twenty dollars for a CD at the Wall sometimes back then. What was I thinking.)
But something happened between 1996 and now. (Besides 9/11 of course.) Bill “William Carlos” Whitten, against all odds, with his back against the wall, a true underdog in every respect, kept the dream alive, and here we are with “Burn My Letters,” a throwback, a progression, a snapshot of what Whitten’s got up his sleeve. More intimate than theatrically guitar-y, and, well, duh, Whitten’s older than even ME, so there’s a well-worn, lived-in quality to these tunes that I can totally relate to as an ex-indie rocker who used to practice guitar by adjusting feedback on my amp for hours at a time. We’re supremely in Mercury Rev territory – why is that such an easy conclusion to jump to? Oh – because there’s a Mercury Rev alum (Justin Russo) on it. Also, Dave Fridmann mastered it. Plus, Grasshopper was once in St. Johnny – but that has nothing to do with “Burn My Letters.” Look, I can go on forever about how natural, how RIGHT this tape feels, how it brings back all sorts of formative music memories, but in the end you’ll just have to trust the guy who wrote about the red wheelbarrow beside the white chickens, the guy who wrings so much from so little.
Oh wait, that’s the OTHER William Carlos Whitten with the poetry. Gosh, I’m so embarrassed. This one’s still good.
The Idiot meets Emergency Kisses.
Mastered by Dave Friedmann (Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev/Weezer/Sparklehorse) at Tarbox Road Studios.
Brad Truax (Home, Interpol, Jah Division, Soldiers of Fortune)
Parker Kindred (Amen Dunes, Anthony and the Johnsons, Jeff Buckley, Joan As Police Woman)
Justin Russo (Hopewell, Mercury Rev, The Silent League)
John Rauchenberger (August Wells)