The Pure Joy of Rock Music
This column is a little bit more personal than usual. Sometimes I’m a little bit emotional in my editorial rantings, but this one may get just a little bit weepy. It’s about, of course, my favorite independent band.
My favorite independent band is broken up, and they have been for about three weeks now. This band had a meteoric rise and a meteoric fall- they came from nowhere, recorded the best independent album in Oklahoma’s recent memory, played a couple of fantastic shows, built a nice-sized fanbase, and then, just as quickly as it had appeared, died. They never opened for any major-label bands, never played any monster shows to hundreds of people, never had a website, never got their own e-mail address, never had more than one pressing of their brilliant album (it sold out), and never got the appreciation they deserved. They are, were, and will ever be a tiny blip on the radar of Oklahoma music- a ‘see-also’ when people research who Scales of Motion played with. And yet, they are, and will probably be for a long time, one of my favorite bands.
You see, The Programme is no ordinary band. Max Porter, fresh off playing bass in the recently-folded emo band Everyday Value, hooked up with one of the guitarists and the drummer from EDV, bent on playing something completely new and different. With Max leading the way on guitar, Mark Chronister backing him up on rhythm and ‘pretty guitar’ (more on that later), Jed Skalnik rockin’ the drums, and later addition of Travis Loafman on bass, the Programme ensued.
They had effectively thrown together a Who-esque rocker (Max), an artistic, beauty-minded guitarist (Mark), a punk rocker on bass (Travis), and an emo/hardcore drummer (Jed). Four completely different styles of playing. But did the Programme hang their heads and give up? No- they formed their own style of music.
I’m not kidding you. They took all of their influences and turned out an album of immense beauty, fist-raising rock, and everything inbetween. They didn’t have to worry about a vocalist- they didn’t bother to get one.
But even so- the album Theseus and the Time Machine is still a concept album. Even without a vocalist, these insurmountable art-rockers made a concept album by making every song title tell a piece of the story- the story of a mad scientist who creates a time machine, falls in love with a girl from the past, goes back in time to stop the husband and his new lover from meeting, and screws up time completely, sending him on a wayward trek to try and set time right again. No conclusion. The last track, the most mournful piece of rock music I’ve ever heard, is “The Wayward Time Traveler”. No conclusion.
How do you have the balls to do that on your first album? The answer is: have music that backs it all up. I’ve been in the studio it was recorded in, and I can tell you that it’s not the studio that made this album brilliant- it’s pure talent. Pure, unadulterated talent. These guys made a house studio in the sticks of Tulsa sound like an overpriced studio somewhere in the nice part of town. Their music does the talking, singing, and lyrics for the album.
The music is impeccable- from the stomping rock of “Thunderdog (Theseus Creates the Time Machine)” to the keys-heavy “The Pangs of Solitude” and the raw, rocking “They Make Love” (Porter once got so into this balls-out rock song that he kicked the bell kit he uses in “Return to the Future to Find That Everything Has Changed” into the audience, smacking an extremely surprised female fan in the torso. He never batted an eye). Porter leads the way throughout the album, laying down the melodies in each song, whether it be chord-based, riff-based, or spaz-based, as on the ridiculously complex, mathy “The Death of Xanthus”. Chronister layers his guitar licks on top of Porter’s- and it is evident throughout the album that Chronister is fond of the palm mute and pretty, undistorted sounds, as his parts are littered with them- and yet it never gets repetitive. The drumming throughout is the most shocking part of this album- the drums are often more complex than are imaginable (especially the opening drum solo on “They Make Love” and the fills randomly placed throughout the album). They propel the sound through apocalyptic openings with just the right amount of minimalism, through tension-filled rock pieces with fitting fills and noises (specifically the gock-blocking “Enter Xanthus, Pianissimo’s Husband”), and through anything else that is needed. And the bass? The bass pulls it all together, with memorable riffs everywhere (check the sweet bass solo on “They Make Love”). Every member of the band is a player. There’s not anything to criticize on this album. The timings are perfect, the melodicism is impeccable, the songwriting is mature beyond compare, and the transitions actually sound good. They make everyone else sound amateur.
I haven’t even talked about the best song on the album. “Theseus Meets Pianissimo” is 4:37 of rock music for the pure joy of it. There’s nothing that makes me smile quicker than the opening chords of “Theseus Meets Pianissimo”. There’s nothing more amazing in the independent rock world.
You can hear a little bit of their prowess on their purevolume site (www.purevolume.com/theprogramme), but that’s not the whole picture. It just doesn’t show their versatility- they are so many styles and genres.
I may have gotten a few little details off- this story is one I gathered from bits and pieces, never having a straight conversation detailing the history of The Programme. That’s perfectly fine with me. Most of what makes a band good is in the music- but what makes a band great is the unknowns, the possibilities, the myths that make people keep wondering.
The Programme is pure rock joy. They played for the sheer fun of rocking out. They ended up being the best there is, and when they split up to go to college, I mourned. I still mourn. I’m probably going to send this to them, just because I know they’d like to know: they were someone’s favorite band.