Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Best of 2008: #11. The Max Levine Ensemble - OK Smartypants


my mom asked me "where's the voice in this country",
i said everybody's got one, they're just garbled and clumsy,
reared up to spit back referential newspeak...
in a postmodern fucking paradise


From the fertile grounds of Washington D.C. come The Max Levine Ensemble, an exceptional punk trio that makes peppy, energetic and literate pop-punk music reminiscent of The Ergs. Known for their strict DIY ethics and their experimentation with a wide array of instruments, OK Smartypants is the ensemble's 4th full-length album and their first as a trio, showing off a tighter, more well-honed set of song-writing dynamics and a cleaner sound to go along with it. As a result, the music has a spark to it that makes the many eccentricities in the group's sound stand out, giving it an offbeat feeling that's hard not to enjoy.

Where The Max Levine Ensemble reach their greatest appeal is in their idiosyncratic and infectious arsenal of pop hooks and occasionally frenzied pace. From the increasingly frenetic "One Click", to the stop-and-start "Love, Capital L", to the melodious hums of "Complex Machines", their plentiful reserves of energy never seem to run out. The hooks presented on a song like "I Loved to Watch Them..." almost demand a response from the listener; and seeing how the song acts as an ode to the pure connection between people and music that seems to make all the petty problems of regular life seem to go away, to not dance along would practically be heresy.

Another distinctive feature of the band is their lead singer/guitarist, David Combs, also known as Spoonboy (a name under which he also has an acoustic act), whose high-pitched cries reach an almost cartoonish level at times, a stellar compliment to the upbeat blur around him. There's something intoxicating about the enthusiasm that Spoonboy sings with that makes every song sound optimistic, in an innocent sort of way, regardless of whether or not he's singing about the purposeful ignorance of the mainstream media channels ("Nuclearadio"), or the blinding cynicism of his peers ("You're Bitter"). The topics confronted on OK Smartypants generally revolve around the personal issues in our lives, with many of the songs dealing with the running theme of failed expectations and bittersweet relationships. That these topics are dealt with in such a naive tone seems to be intentional, as if each song is channeled through that one sympathetic friend who helps you through a hard time by saying that everything will get better, whether it will or not.

The Max Levine Ensemble are that friend. Get to know them better.

(And like any good friend, they also offer the album for download here! It's also available for physical release via the same link if you wanna go analog.)

3 comments:

cretin said...

was that corny? OH GOD IT WAS WASN'T IT

d. said...

Very cool post. I look forward to checking these guys out. I can always use a new friend.

cretin said...

you shan't regret it!

btw, their earlier albums are also available to download as well, and there's some great material in there, both for contrast and by its own merits. especially if you like trumpets.

i like trumpets.