w/Big Business, the Further
Fri May 28, Graceland, 10 pm, $8.
Among a certain faction of Seattle's music scene, a collective sigh can be heard, finally expelling the relief that, hallelujah, a full-length CD from the New Mexicans has been released. And it's called Chicken Head Talking Diamonds.
Not many bands could cultivate, much less maintain, a fan base when three years go by with only a limited-edition single to offer the interested masses. But then most bands aren't as compelling as the New Mexicans, a four-piece (comprising singer/guitarist Rob Hampton, guitarist Joe Crawford, bassist Jeff Montano, and drummer Creighton Barrett) that packs more power into a two-minute song than most local bands can but without having to shred your ears off with shrieking vocals to do so. In fact, theirs is a hard sound to nail down--it's not hardcore, it's not metal, and it's not math rock, either. It's just a finely tuned mix of all three, with more than a little bit of humor thrown in, be it a surprisingly placed ting of a cymbal, or a song title like "I'm Going to Go Put on My Cape and Go Jack Off to Some Beat Happening CDs." Goddamn, that one just gets funnier every time you read it.
Produced by Phil Ek (so in demand these days it's rumored he's about to go big time and accept the fact that he needs a manager), Chicken Head Talking Diamonds clocks in at just over 28 minutes, boasting an impressive 10 tracks in a compressed blast of songs.
"We've always made it a point to not have a stagnant live set," says Hampton, who explains that he and his bandmates make sure to mix things up and that so far, it keeps people coming back for more. The New Mexicans certainly aren't a band that you can see once in a while and feel like nothing has transformed since the last time you heard them play. Which is a surprising thing, given that they're one of the tightest-sounding bands in the city. Each song is a special marvel, from the album-opening "Ride Your Koala to Freedom" (which features an astonishing tempo change that goes from supercharged swirl to a slammed-brake skid) to "This Is Where the Awesome Comes In," a barreling tune, one predicting the perils of the fortune and fame that being in a band might offer, including Brazilian girlfriends ("Watch out Hollywood," hollers Hampton, "Here we come!"), to the album closer, "Lesbian Llamas Are the Fruit of Gnomes," but the singer claims there is no overriding theme to Chicken Head Talking Diamonds. (Hampton will only own up to the songs being "narratives.") But paying any attention to the material clues in the listener that there is a recurring notion of escape and voyage to be heard, not only in the lyrics but in the music as well. There's definite propulsion, and more than one song on the album features transients, malcontents looking to leave, and you could even say there's some evidence of pirate imagery within. For the real story, look to the T-shirts, designed by Jesse Roberts (of the Ruby Doe, and also a tattoo artist at Lucky Devil). "It's going to be a pirate ship," admits Hampton, "but the hull of the pirate ship is going to be a banana." "Actually," he admits finally, "a lot of our new songs are about pirates."
Those who attend this week's show will be able to get their hands on not only that T-shirt but an advance copy of the new CD, which doesn't come out (on Under the Needle Recordings) until June 24. By that time, however, the New Mexicans will be halfway across the United States, playing a show in New Orleans, as they leave on their first national tour at the end of May. "We won't be around for the release," says Hampton, "but we wanted the people who come to all of our shows to have a chance to pick up the CD before it comes out." The band will be on the road for five weeks, and a July 9 show at Chop Suey signals their big homecoming. After so much time on the road, with a show nearly every single night, "watertight" won't even begin to explain how supremely locked this already taut band will be.