A League of Their Own

The last time I saw The Minor Leagues' singer/songwriter Ben Walpole in person, he seemed almost despondent about his inability to find a stable band line-up (guitarist Patrick Helmes has been the o

Jun 14, 2006 at 2:06 pm

The last time I saw The Minor Leagues' singer/songwriter Ben Walpole in person, he seemed almost despondent about his inability to find a stable band line-up (guitarist Patrick Helmes has been the only other consistent member in the band's five-year history). He then handed me a CD burn with some excellent new songs he and Helmes had been recording, suggesting that they were keeping busy without a permanent rhythm section. Boy, were they. Flash forward a few months and in my inbox (along with eventual word that drummer John Kathman and bassist Jesse Rogers are back on board this summer) appears The Pestilence Is Coming, a mind-blowing "concept" album featuring 15 tracks of the group's incredibly refined, impossibly catchy Indie Pop. Over 40 (!) guests lent a hand in the recording, providing everything from horns, violin and bagpipes to choral/gang background vocals and handclaps. The results are astounding.

Released on the Indie imprint Datawaslost and written and recorded over a three-year time period, the album is a jubilant, dizzying collection, highlighted by colorful, kaleidoscopic melodies that just seem to pour out of Walpole effortlessly. Exquisitely arranged and sublimely orchestral, Walpole's songs are padded with layers of unique ornamental extras (xylophone, Peruvian pipes, glockenspiel, accordion, etc.), but none of it is extraneous. The lyrical thread is equally exhilarating.

Walpole is a sharp, imaginative writer (reading the lyric sheet is almost as fun as listening to the songs), telling character stories and touching on everything from politics and class to isolation and love (if there's a "concept," it seems to revolve around love, fear, desperation, Canada and end-of-the-world paranoia).

It's nothing short of remarkable that this is a home-recorded project. The record is as crisp as any Indie album you'll hear. And the hooks are some of the best you'll find on any Pop/Rock album; fans of undeniable melody-masters like Brian Wilson, The Kinks, Beulah, The Apples in Stereo and (old) Blur — you have a new favorite band. The album clocks in at just over 50 minutes, but you feel like you've just sat through a spellbinding three-hour movie epic that you don't want to end.

The record is best taken as a whole, but if you're looking for highlights, jump to the effervescent, noxious-gas-leak anthemics of the title track (think Belle and Sebastian on a sugar bender), "Cut the Company Ties" (which stings with the Pop story-song heroics of Squeeze and Ray Davies), the swaying, counter-vocal-laden "French Canadia" and the space-age, synth-laced New Wave ditty "Different Planet."

Snippets like "Montreal," an experimental waterfall of foreign language voices and backward-tape swooshes, connect a few tracks, but there is no filler on Pestilence. It is a triumph for the "album" in general, a refreshing resistance to today's singles-happy, iPod-shuffled society.

The Minor Leagues celebrate the release of Pestilence Saturday at alchemize with Nashville's Albino Vega, Athens, Ohio's Men of Gentle Birth and locals The Spectacular Fantastic. The $5 cover includes of copy of the new disc — the best five bucks you'll spend this year. (minorleaguesmusic.com)

More Locals Notes
· Bassist Cliff Starbuck of Columbus, Ohio-based Jam band faves Ekoostik Hookah will be joining local Bluegrass/Blues/Rock crew, The Kennedy Brothers Band, this summer for several shows. Playing banjo, Starbuck starts his collaboration with the group this week; the KBB performs Wednesday at the Northside Tavern and Thursday at Stanley's Pub. (kennedyblues.com)

· Local Punk band Hats Off will be releasing its new CD, Accumulation, June 30 in conjunction with a show at Top Cat's. To gear up for the release party, they'll be at Sudsy Malone's Saturday, performing as part of an all-ages Punk showcase, featuring Amp Records' Teenage Rehab, Middle Class Trash and Wish You Were's. Music starts at 7 p.m. (hatsoffrock.com)

· Former MCA Records recording artists July For Kings headline this Sunday's "Rockin' For Kids" concert at Coney Island. The concert is a part of the Child Wellness Fair and benefits Building Blocks Foundation and the Child Wellness Community Fund, which work to improve children's health through a variety of programs (see childwellnessfair.com for details). The music starts at 12:30 p.m. with Vocal Scope and the concert also features music from The Spill and Strip the Image. July For Kings plays at 4 p.m. According to the JFK Web site, the group will be phasing out the band name; while the line-up will remain the same, their forthcoming album will be attributed to singer/songwriter Joe Hedges and not July For Kings.

CONTACT MIKE BREEN: mbreen(at)citybeat.com