Artichoke is Geek Rock
by Steve Jones, Silver Lake Press
Wednesday, May 15, 2002
The artichoke is an interesting food. To most people, it is an exotic plant that seems scarcely edible. Having grown up on the stuff, I know that as you peel away the thorny leaves, you eventually get to a meaty heart. Artichoke the band is nothing like that. They are more like a pomegranate or better yet corn (most definitely not Korn). [Editor’s note: Please, no food metaphors in CD reviews]. Well, what’s someone to do when reviewing a band named for something? I mean, I’m sure Pavement got a few reviews that said “band hits the ground running” and I’m sure Weezer was said to write “anthems for the asthmatic.” But not in this paper, I take it. So forget that this band is named Artichoke. Let’s give them a new name: how about the Doomed, or Lies and Betrayals. You pick.
I first stumbled on to Artichoke at Canter’s Kibitz room. I thought they were a Pavement cover band. It was around the time that we were all mourning the demise of Pavement, so I was happy to see a new fresh-faced band picking up the torch. The next time I saw Artichoke, they had graduated to Spaceland. I met the singer, Timothy Sellers, who is a soft-spoken, thoughtful guy from the Catskills Mountains. We both admitted that the Stephen Malkmus album was pretty good and he mentioned that Artichoke’s CD was now available.
The CD, “Evaporation,” is a departure from those earlier days when I first saw the band. Their songwriting has matured into that stream of consciousness gibberish that sticks in your head for days. The music’s got that electricity that early Weezer had.
In the song “Mix Tape” Sellers sings, “I’m telling you what we want inscribed as a geek rock epitaph / I’m in a band in a band that you’ll never hear.”
Let’s prove them wrong.
I thought, There must be a mistake. I examined the disc cover top to bottom. There was no mention of what record label Artichoke is on. I had already listened to EVAPORATION several times, and I was shocked to find that this disc is self-produced. This is a bad-ass, cool album. Where are the suits? Artichoke is a creative, smart, cool, highly-marketable band. Admittedly, there is a little too much music inspired by the teachings of Weezer-a trend I am sick to death of;
but Artichoke is at least taking time to twist it a bit and present it in a new way. There are some LP-period touches on EVAPORATION. There is the sound of children playing in the water on the song “Noah”; there is a nighttime soundscape on the song “More Spackling Tools”. Artichoke is smart-ass, artsy-fartsy cool. EVAPORATION is fabulous fun.
Read a review of Evaporation at EvilSponge
All heart: With their self-released disc Evaporation, Artichoke has done the impossible: They’ve gorged themselves on the Pavement/Pixies diet of ’80s and ’90s indie rock and managed to regurgitate a sound that doesn’t suck. Frontman Timothy Sellers sings/talks with a laid-back Steve Malkmus monotone, and some of the guitar outros could’ve been plucked from Trompe le Monde, but the inspired songwriting avoids any been-there-done-that pitfalls. “I try
to write songs about stuff no one’s written about yet,” says Sellers. That stuff includes everything from the construction of Noah’s Ark to his own band’s demise and “geek rock epitaph.” It’s infectious inde pop throughout and though nearly an hour in length, the disc doesn’t drag. A frequent request on KXLU, they had kids sitting cross-legged and transfixed at that station’s recent Fundrazor show at the Knitting Factory. And now booker/curator Mike TV has made them a welcome fixture at his Launchpad East the last Tuesday of every month at Mr. T’s Bowl.
Am I the first one to get that “Abstract Red Adam” is about the short story, “The Circular Ruins” by Jorge Luis Borges? Cool! Thumbs up to 26 Scientists too, from a fellow traveler.