MJ Lenderman

2nd Grade

Friday, February 10
Doors: 7:30pm | Show: 8pm

MJ LENDERMAN

Jake Lenderman lives in Asheville, North Carolina. He plays guitar in the indie band Wednesday, sometimes fishes on the Pigeon River, and creates his own music as MJ Lenderman. His latest solo release with Dear Life Records is titled Boat Songs. Lenderman describes the album as his most “polished” sound to date, built around songs that “chase fulfillment and happiness”—whether that means buying a boat, drinking too much, or watching seeds fall from the bird feeder.

Boat Songs is the followup to Lenderman’s 2021 label debut, Ghost of Your Guitar Solo, and subsequent release, Knockin’, with Dear Life Records, both of which were critically acclaimed for their off-the-cuff alternative country sound. But with Boat Songs, Lenderman emerges confident as ever, an innovative yet unassuming artist, straightforward and true.

Recorded at Asheville’s Drop of Sun with Alex Farrar and Colin Miller, Boat Songs is the first album Lenderman made in a professional studio. WWE matches and basketball games were silently projected on the studio walls during recording sessions. And you can hear their power in these ten unapologetically lo-fi tracks, each brimming with pent-up energy and the element of surprise.

A clavichord honks throughout ‘You Have Bought Yourself A Boat’ with the playfulness of a live Dylan/Band set. ‘SUV’ screams with My Bloody Valentine distortion. When Xandy Chelmis beautifully bends his steel guitar on ‘TLC Cage Match’ you can’t help but think of Gram Parsons. And ‘Tastes Just Like It Costs’ howls with the intensity of Crazy Horse era Neil Young. Boat Songs is fearless and it’s exciting. It challenges the perception of what modern day country music is supposed to be and where it can go.

But no matter where Boat Songs goes sonically, the album is deeply rooted in Lenderman’s natural gifts as a storyteller. Someone once asked Hank Williams what made country music successful and he said, “One word: sincerity.” Filled with everyday observations ripped straight from his journal, Lenderman’s lyrics are sincere in their absurdities, with the vulnerability and honesty of Jason Molina and Daniel Johnston. There are moments of humor (‘Jackass is funny like the Earth is round’), admission (‘I know why we get so fucked up’), and recognition of beauty others might not stop to see (‘Your laundry looks so pretty…relaxing in the wind’). Read alone on the page, ‘Hangover Game,’ ‘You Have Bought Yourself A Boat,’ and ‘Dan Marino,’ stand out as perfect little poems, unpretentious and real. Simply said, these songs are unforgettable.

Or you could also say it like this: listening to Boat Songs by MJ Lenderman is like joining your best friends out on the porch. The neighbors might be yelling and the bugs might be biting. But y’all are shooting the shit and letting loose, telling the same old stories again and again. But it don’t matter how many times you’ve heard them, because they’re from the heart—and in the end they always make you feel alive again.


2ND GRADE

Ringing from hi-fi headphones and blown-out boombox speakers alike comes the overloaded guitar genius of Easy Listening, a record of rock ‘n’ roll daydreams and terminal boredom, and 2nd Grade’s long awaited second LP on Double Double Whammy. Like a blue slushy on a hot day, Easy Listening is a sweet respite. Like the Blue Angels touching down on the Las Vegas Strip, Easy Listening is impossible to ignore. And like a janitor mopping up beer on the floor of the Hollywood Palladium in 1972, hours after the Rolling Stones have finished “Ventilator Blues” and climbed onto the bus, Easy Listening knows the glory and cost of escapism, abandon, and the soul of rock ‘n’ roll. Philadelphia’s 2nd Grade (Peter Gill, Catherine Dwyer, Jon Samuels, David Settle, and Fran Lyons) is a band both obsessed with and worthy of rock stardom, and Easy Listening proves their status as virtuosos of the power pop renaissance.

Sonically and lyrically, Easy Listening pays tribute to a guitar lineage linking the Stones to the Flamin’ Groovies, to Redd Kross and Guided By Voices. With its spiraling hooks and handclapped quarter note beat, lead single “Strung Out On You” sounds like an alternate reality post-Radio City Big Star cut. In 2nd Grade’s world, music history is a prism, not a linear progression. Famous teens transcend time on the outro to “Teenage Overpopulation,” a shouted cacophony of names including Tommy Stinson, Lizzie McGuire, and Joan of Arc. The line between the love of an audience and that of a romantic partner is blurred on songs like “Hands Down” and “Me & My Blue Angels.” Across the album, hi-fi and lo-fi styles splice together; playful references and surreal hints of impossibility build a complex, believable world atop a foundation of simple and sticky melodies that resonate on very first listen.

As usual, 2nd Grade are generous with their album offerings, packing 16 songs on Easy Listening. Most tracks clock in around two minutes, almost indulgent compared to the average runtime on 2nd Grade’s debut 24-track LP Hit to Hit. On Easy Listening however, the band develops their theory of quantum teenage energy, composed of equal parts sincerity and swagger. Basement drums and bass run full speed ahead. Gill’s vocal deliveries range from sweet to snotty. Guitar performances from Samuels and Dwyer similarly alternate between clean power-pop jangle and lo-fi scuzz, dedicated above all to the band’s lodestar: riffs that rule.

Easy Listening doesn’t just reference its larger-than-life forebearers – it builds a multi-layered dreamworld of punk and rock mythology from beginning to end, allowing both band and listener to revel, at least for a moment, in radio star euphoria. “We’re MVPs of MTV/Don’t have to live like a refugee/We’re VIPs of VH1/Learning to fly and free fallin,” Gill sings on Track 1, “Cover of Rolling Stone.” Later, on “Planetarium,” Gill colors his starry daydream with everyday pathos: “My lawyer says not to talk to the press/but I just like the way that they listen.” Across the album, yesteryear’s guitar heroes show up as totemic symbols, transmuting their own worlds of meaning into new expressions in Gill’s overactive imagination.

For all its abundance, Gill’s imagination is also desperate. The brilliance of Easy Listening lies in its longing, and in the blindingly clear difference between the myth of rockstar ecstasy and the reality of ennui, stagnation, and addiction. Like anybody, the voice of 2nd Grade just wants somebody to listen and there’s nothing more human than fantasizing about the things we don’t have. Like 2nd Grade, we’re all children, “dreaming of dreaming of dreaming a dream.”