Athens' band Ceiling Fan have been around for
more than a few years. There was a time when they seemed to
be the house band for the Caledonia Lounge and, as such, I've
seen them in concert more times than I can remember. Recently,
however, they haven't been playing out as much, and I more or
less wondered what had happened. And then, out of the blue,
I heard they had finally released an album, called Hot
Streets, on Imperial Fuzz records.
When I started listening to Hot Streets, I was
very pleased. Most of the live favorites I remember have finally
been recorded for posterity. And, as a chunk of semi-crunchy,
slightly geeky rock music, this album has almost everything
I could want. Guitarist Ben Spraker specializes in jangly, rhythmic
guitar riffs, which in and of themselves are an Athens' band
hallmark. In contrast, Jess Robbins continually holds down the
melody via his prominent bass lines, which sing and bounce all
over the place. Finally, Dave Gerow doesn't engage in the theatrics
one might expect from a true "rock" drummer; however, his rather
straight-forward drumming is still a focal-point of the music.
In short, the balance which Ceiling Fan displays is relatively
rare in the recorded medium, and this strong background allows
the listener to pay attention other parts of the songs.
Previously, I called
Ceiling Fan's music slightly geeky. This element really
emerges when you look at the songs' lyrics and their delivery.
Primary vocalist Spraker has a slightly ironic tone that recalls
John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants or perhaps the young
Elvis Costello. Furthermore, the clever wordplay found on songs
like I'm Boring or Ncyclpd Brwn gives them, at
times, the feel of over-educated liberal arts graduates who
have fun by making others laugh knowledgably. Even the album's
pseudo-country tune, Dog with Flea, comes across a conscious
attempt to play on certain conventions. Nevertheless, these
elements don't come across as ironic or mocking. Instead, everything
seems genuine and unaffected, as if this homage to New Wave
music and classic 1970s rock construction is a natural function
of the Ceiling Fan's individual personalities.
Still, the best songs on the album are the sing along, bouncy
pop songs like Get Shallow, Burnt Sienna, and
Como Te Llamas. For instance, Get Shallow contains
all of the musical qualities mentioned previously. Furthermore,
on this particular track, the backing vocals of Robbins and
Gerow act as a lower counterpoint to Spraker's soaring lead.
However, what really makes Get Shallow stand out is the
New Wave-ish bridge combined with the compelling chorus of "How
did you get so shallow?" Likewise, Burnt Sienna begins
with a jangly guitar riff that recalls the work of Rick Springfield.
Like Get Shallow, Burnt Sienna has a catchy chorus
that is enhanced by a doubled vocal line. But, in this case,
the bass line of Jess Robbins comes to the forefront about half
way through the song, and stays the central focus until the
conclusion. Finally, my favorite song is Como Te Llamas.
On this song, Gerow's drumming finally takes center stage, with
its prominent snare and cymbal combination. Likewise, immediately
after the chorus, both the guitar and bass come together to
provide a simple but memorable bridge that mimics the drum pattern.
And, again, the catchy chorus of "What was your name again?
I forgot already…" is more or less guaranteed to have people
singing along with the band by the second listen.
In fact, I only have two minor complaints about Hot Streets.
First, the various over-dubbed sound effects (particularly on
the guitars) become a bit distracting at times. Although I suspect
that these are an intentional homage to Ceiling Fan's influences,
the suddenness and relative loudness of the touches threaten
to overwhelm the music. But this need for songs to live and
die by itself is my own personal preference, and by no means
reflects on the band. Second, as a self-contained album, Hot
Streets does at times veer somewhat erratically from
musical genre to musical genre. While I've chosen to focus on
the extremely strong pop songs, other styles are certainly represented
on the album. For instance, Rock Discipline Part II could
be a lost Iggy and the Stooges track, while, as I've mentioned
previously, Dog with Fleas is a dead on impression of
a classic country tune. Although I don't find the disparate
types of songs distracting, someone who is looking for a unified
vision might find the variety disconcerting.
Nevertheless, Hot Streets captures the live essence
of Ceiling Fan, even down to the two covers (by Joe Jackson
and Boz Skaggs, respectively). And while it isn't musically
ground-breaking by any means, it is a great album to listen
to and simply enjoy, especially on a spring afternoon. Finally,
the best compliment I can pay to Ceiling Fan is that listening
to this album makes me happy, and there certainly aren't many
bands that can claim that effect.