This record doesn’t sound like that cover looks. A hawk who comes in from the thunder to fend off a dinosaur who seems to have already lost a battle to gravity? Between the band name and this epic cover art, you’d swear Josh “Thunderhawk” Hall was forever stuck in a death metal daydream. (Or is that just a really great in-joke?) But, hey, this is something else. This is indie rock. Well, side one (and yes, we’re talking melted wax presented in the proper A- and B-side format) is pure indie rock. Tattoo that on Hall’s forehead – pure, cliché-free indie rock. Side two is another story. It’s indie, and it’s rock, and it’s cliché-free, but it’s also something else. More on that in a minute.
The origin of VI’s 12 tracks is a story in itself. Hall intended to spend 2008 writing, recording and self-releasing five albums all before the start of 2009. Each album, in Hall’s mind, would be different from the next, and each would be loosely modeled after a band from Fort Wayne’s underground music scene. (Note: Hall, who lives in Indianapolis and is from Philadelphia, often finds himself sleeping on Fort Wayne couches.) Not surprisingly, the notoriously hardworking DIY master finished all five albums and even had enough money saved to self-release two of them in the spring of 2009. Indy-based Standard Recording Co. heard these two albums, loved them, saw the Hawks live and began talking with Hall about putting out a record. The result is VI, an album that features one catalog cut (the basement classic “I’ve Got a Bullet with Your Name on It”) and the cream of the crop from each of the two albums Hall’s new label had just fallen in love with.
One would have to surmise that, with as much effort as he put into writing and recording in 2008, Hall was hell bent on topping his previous release, the instant basement classic V, a.k.a. Gravity Wins! It’s safe to assume that no one honestly believed that Hall could do this. Did Prince ever really top Purple Rain? Do the Stones really have a better record than Sticky Fingers? As much as Gravity really is that complete of an album, VI manages to be better. Sure, Hall had to record 50 to 60 new songs to get there, but for us – the listeners who reap the benefits – it’s worth it. This is a classic record, the rare release that has no filler. When released in January of 2010, it will be the album to beat throughout the year.
Okay, side two. Indie rock, sure, but something else. Here we hear Hall, in Black Label Summer (one of his many side projects) mode, churning out twangy, heartfelt songwriter material that reminds most of the Old 97’s Too Far to Care. Each song kills. Destroys. We hear banjo and harmonica. We hear Hall singing – with longing and a twang – his best lyrics to date. Tracks 8-12 are lovely enough that many a lady listener might leave this record convinced that Hall is their next boyfriend. Two songs in particular have some serious crossover potential.
First we have “Liver Let Die,” a twangy drinking anthem that aims to make director Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Funny People) forget all about the Wu-Tang Clan. I’d type the beer-soaked lyrics of rough love here for you, because they are the kind of lyrics you’ll be singing soon enough. But I can’t. I can’t because, like the members of Apatow’s precious Wu clan, Hall spends his days chewing on the nastiest words he can find. And it’s great.
And while that song would surely be playing in every college dorm in the country if it were to get any buzz, the real gem of side two is “Teenage FanClub Riot,” which I’ll say nothing more about so as not to spoil the thrill. Okay, I’ll say this: It’s the best song ever released by Standard Recording Company and possibly the best song this writer has ever heard come out of Indiana’s indie rock scene. No. 2 on that list might be this record’s very own opener, “King Basement.” Yep, this is that kind of a record. A DIY classic. (Greg Locke)
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