Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Moving, Bobgoblin, and "Denton Escape Velocity"

Many years ago, when I had barely been playing Chapman Stick for a matter of months, a jazz pianist friend of mine (whom we shall refer to as “Breakfast”) was kind enough to invite me out to play in a pizza joint on the square with Paul Slavens. I just barely stumbled through the gig. I am not sure what I played, and in retrospect I am sure there were some embarrassing moments, but I made it, nonetheless. I distinctively remember playing a song called Denton Escape Velocity, which described a fascinating phenomenon: it is possible to leave Denton, but you have to be going REALLY fast. Otherwise, you just get sucked back into orbit. As are many of Slavens’ best songs, it was satirical, funny, and inarguably true. Many people who leave Denton seem to come back.

I moved to Denton in 1989 to go to UNT, and I stayed in the city’s orbit for nearly twenty years. When my wife and I finally left the metroplex in 2008, I thought for sure that I had reached Denton Escape Velocity and that my path would lead me away from my second home. I was wrong.

There have been several issues with our life in Austin that have become impossible to ignore.  I have been increasingly dissatisfied with aspects of my position.  The rising cost of living in the city has made it impossible to subsist on our teacher’s salaries.  We have not found a sustainable plan for getting P into kindergarten that doesn’t turn her into a latchkey kid at age 5. These and other nagging problems made the idea of a change more and more appealing. My wife and I began putting out some feelers in Austin, Houston, and the northern DFW metroplex to see if we could land something that would resolve some of these problems. Being an elementary art teacher, she got the first real bite.

And don’t you know where it was?


She was offered a position at a brand new elementary school in a reputable district, and we decided that she should accept. Not only would she take the lead at a new school, but she felt so confident in the school’s philosophy that we both felt comfortable about P attending with her. Additionally, P and EJ could grow up in Denton, which is more like the Austin of my youth than the ridiculously overcrowded, overpriced, self-important, bloated mess that the city has sadly become. I would much rather let my kids make fond memories of dancing the polka to Brave Combo at Denton’s Christmas Tree Lighting on the Square than inhaling car fumes at the Trail of Lights.

Seems oddly fitting, then, that after almost two decades, one of my favorite bands from Denton’s big live music boom of the 90s has released a new album this year. Back when I played with Fletcher, we had a few projects that we openly supported whenever we could, and one of them was Bobgoblin. They had all the accessible punk-pop aesthetic of Green Day, but tempered it firmly with the virtuosity, intensity, and intellect of Rush. Plus, they wore uniforms.

They were a great live act whose musicianship far exceeded any superficial preconceptions surrounding the punky style in which they played. I particularly remember finding it difficult to take my attention away from drummer Rob Avsharian. His playing was always a presence, and often a subtle one. He was Bobgoblin’s spark plug, not unlike Terry Bozzio was when he played with the Missing Persons in the 80s. Avsharian could energize a relatively straightforward rhythm simply by aggressively nailing it deep in the pocket, but he could also throw out highly technical and melodic passages when it served the song.

Bobgoblin had a major release in 1997 called the 12-Point Master Plan that deserves its own dedicated post at some point, but for now let’s suffice it to say that it was and still is personal favorite. Since then, the band has been active at varying levels and in different forms, but no plans for a new full-length Bobgoblin release have ever been announced - until recently.

Several months ago, plans for the release of Love Lost for Blood Lust, the first full Bobgoblin album in nearly twenty years, began to surface. Early recordings were posted and taken down.  Partial digital releases were teased on Amazon and other major outlets.  Finally, earlier this year, the album was released in full form on disc.  I ordered it directly from the Bobgoblin site and amazingly, it picks up right where the band left off. The consistency between it and its predecessor belies the decades-long gap that exists between them – a continuity that stands in tribute to Bobgoblin’s unwavering mission statement.

It is important to note, however, that Love Lost for Blood Lust is not a rework of the 12-Point Master Plan. It is a more mature album, but as with most things Bobgoblin, its maturity is only subtly revealed. Superficially, they still present themselves a purveyors of angular, riff-driven, intensely delivered power pop with a countercultural edge. Inside these infectious tunes, however, hide dense production, complex rhythms, and an almost sarcastic mastery of the power chord’s harmonic ambiguity. None of these features are new to Bobgoblin, of course, but they are expressed on this album in way that suggests decades worth of consideration, rather than a spontaneous rehash.

Love Lost for Blood Lust has the sense that it is a labor of love made for long time fans of the band, with the optimistic undercurrent of raising visibility in the process. It is certainly being released to a much different world than its predecessor. Gone are the days of beating the streets to get a record deal and getting gypped by the company. For better or for worse, artists today have much more creative control over their work and often have a direct line toward their audience. I for one am very grateful to have the opportunity to dip my toe in 90s nostalgia without living in the past as I end one era of my life and usher in another.

1 comment:

  1. I'm truly sad to see you guys leave Austin, but I wish you only the best. Good luck!