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1 May 2017

The Karl Hendricks Trio - 'Sings About Misery and Women' (Fiasco/Peas Kor)

I love the title of this album, and Wayno's artwork for once is a bit less reminiscent of 80s Daniel Clowes and more expressive; young Karl's demeanour on the cover + Tim & Tom in the background gives this a melancholy flavour before the stylus is even lowered. The bricks and foliage and background statues would imply an autumnal New England liberal arts college setting, though I'm sure it's actually depicting Pittsburgh which has some monuments of its own, y'know, and some pretty OK foliage. Anyway, it all comes together to make a rather 'emo' record, though of course Karl Hendricks has always been 'emo', even though his sound and style bore little resemblance to the hardcore-based scene of the same name, which was also taking place in 1993. This is the second consecutive Karl Hendricks LP with misapplied labels (what was your problem, early 90s Peas Kor?) so as I forgot, I started with side B, and the crunchy 'Women and Strangers'. This may actually be the sequence that I became more used to and slightly prefer, since it places 'You're A Bigger Jerk Than Me' as track 2, which is a good place for it. This is one of Karl's most enduring songs, and a good transitional song between the earlier, poppier material and the tendency towards heavy guitar rock which later Trio/Rock Band followed. Throughout, there's no shortage of balladry - 'Flowers Avenue' and 'Romantic Stories from the War' are plaintive, searching for an outlet for a heart being overpumped with blood and regret. 'I Didn't Believe in Gravity' is the singer-songwriter strumming an acoustic guitar, the indie rock folk moment, and a throwback to Karl's pre-Trio self-released cassettes. When the distortion pedals are stepped on, it really works, and the indie rock vibe is felt in the juxtaposition between slow, arpeggiated moments and strummed electric guitar chords, always on the verge of breaking out ('I Don't Need Your Shit', 'Do You Like To Watch Me Sob?'). There's something almost minimal and economical about the early Trio - the 4/4 steady beats were a nice antidote to the time-signature obsessed sounds of Don Caballero and their followers, who were coming out of Pittsburgh at the same time. Karl's voice is mixed higher here than on Buick Electra and this confidence carries through in the playing. I get sad listening to this not because of the lyrics (which never wallow so much in the misery as find a comfort in it), but because of his recent passing; there's little more I can say to express what a tragedy it was, and hope that his music continues to find new fans.

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