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May 28, 2004

{     One Ring Zero As Smart as We Are     }    

Depending on who you talk to, and just how much shame that fellow has, you might hear that One Ring Zero have, more or less, singlehandedly created an entirely new genre of music: Lit Rock. Yes, that is "Lit" as in "I'm taking English Lit. 201 this term" as in short for "literary." Confused? I wouldn't blame you even the slightest little bit. Frankly, I think the name "Lit Rock" is precisely the sort of divisive prattling that makes me think of most music critics as little more than verbal onanists. Simply put, the "Lit Rock" tag means that the lyrics of this eclectic series of pop songs were written by honest-to-goodness authors, the sorts who write novels and short stories and plays, many of whom you may have heard of. Reinforcing the literary aspects of the album _As Smart as We Are_ is packaged not as a jewel-cased CD but a hardbound book with a CD in the front cover. There are seventeen tracks on _As Smart as We Are_, and there are also seventeen different lyricists/authors. For the sake of completeness they are, in order of appearance: Paul Auster, Daniel Handler, Darin Strauss, Rick Moody, Lawrence Krauser, Clay McLeod Chapman, Dave Eggers, Margaret Atwood, Aaron Naparstek, Denis Johnson, Neil Gaiman, Amy Fusselman, Myla Goldberg, A.M. Homes, Ben Greenman, Jonathan Ames, and Jonathan Lethem. Despite this massed force of bonafide authors these are still pop songs. These songs follow the standard pop music themes. Boy likes girl, girl doesn't like boy. Boy is lonely, wants to meet girl. Girl is lonely, shapes a man out of clay and carves her name on his forehead and the two have a grand old time until the rainy season. Given a less quirky accompaniment these lyrics could be just as easily have been sung by a Timberlake or Spears. . . maybe. Regarding said accompaniment, One Ring Zero play a wide range of bizarre, obsolete, and discontinued instruments in addition to a number of toys, household objects, and the standard guitar, bass, and drums. The story of One Ring Zero, told in the accompanying booklet, is good enough to be from a novel itself. It begins in a musical instrument warehouse and repair center in Richmond, VA where Joshua Camp and Michael Hearst met amongst the wreckage of dysfunctional accordians and mistuned harmonicas. Having a ken for wacky instruments, the two enthusiastically tested strange prototypes from Germany like the claviola (something like a mixture of a bagpipe and an accordian). Almost inevitably the two formed a band to showcase these mysterious instruments. You may ask yourself, “Why would an acclaimed author of prose _want_ to write a pop song?” My best answer could be, “Because he does it so well, silly!” The fourteen novelists-turned-lyricists demonstrate what a ken for vocabulary and diction combined with a gleefully sardonic vision of a pop song can produce. Daniel Handler (often mistaken for infamous children's author Lemony Snicket), writes "If I had a leisure suit / one tenth of one percent as cute / as certain parts of aspects of your face" and then follows it with a chorus of "fucking good, fucking good, fucking good, fucking good." Myla Goldberg refers to her golem as her "sedimental valentine." Smart-assed and just plain smart lyrics abound on _As Smart as we Are_. Though not wholly without precedent, the musical stylings of One Ring Zero are refreshingly different from the glitzy over-produced pop and angry nü-metal rock that fills the radio waves. The bands love of musical esoterica is evident. This is not a standard three-piece rock band with an accordion bleat or theremin whinny every other song. These are songs designed for mysterious instruments, and the sound is equally mysterious. One Ring Zero play cartoon flea-circus music. This is the soundtrack for a shifty man with an untraceable foreign accent who laughs at awkward moments before abruptly leering at the world from beneath their single, thick, black eyebrow. The music on _As Smart as We Are_ is as equally darkly comic as the lyrics written for it.

     » As Smart as We Are is published by Soft Skull Press
     » Naturally, One Ring Zero have an official website

By Benjamin in Music


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