Christian the Christian

(Lackthereof; 2004)

By Sean Ford | 14 November 2007

As indie music fans we're all accustomed to the idea that the best music flies in under the radar. No one but the coolest college DJs played early Pavement, Pixies or Sebadoh on the radio; it took people years to realize what Guided By Voices were up to; and so on and so forth. Nowadays, we all like to pat ourselves on the back and feel like we've got the radar situation under control. But while the people controlling the indie music radar may have changed, a lot of great music still slips by unannounced and unheralded. Danny Seim, sole member of Lackthereof, has been a sort of victim of our faulty radar. He's been toiling away for years under the moniker Lackthereof unannounced and unnoticed, except for close family members, the local record store and his high school English teacher.

Last year, Danny got together with fellow Portland trail blazers Brent and Justin to form Menomena. The result was a hugely entertaining disc of infectious, organic and inventive pop songs formed around ascendant piano riffs and layered, looped drums. Thankfully, that album got noticed and a small part of the world was given the gift of Menomena. Sadly, no one mentioned in any of their glowing reviews of that fine record that lead singer and crazy looper-drummer Danny Seim had been recording very similar music under the guise of Lackthereof since at least 1999.

With his newest Lackthereof release, Danny returns with his unique approach to developing drums within songs. Rumor has it that Seim constructs these trippy, sort of hip-hop drum beats via a homemade computer program then learns it and plays it live, retaining a remarkable quality---at once completely organic and vaguely synthetic. In fact, Danny might be accused of being a drum-a-holic, but not in the extended drum solo sense; drums are the ever-shifting foundations of these songs and are used to complement groovy fat bass lines, fuzzy guitars, and '80s-style Casio keyboards. (Is anyone else extremely happy about the rebirth of keyboards spurred on by the Unicorns, Fiery Furnaces, Ratatat and Seim's work? Is it just me?).

Seim uses these elements to wind, chug and thump around his absurd and generally unintelligible tales of drugs, Jesus, jail and little boys playing catch. The vocal delivery isn't as exuberant as on the Menomena disc, as Seim seems much more laconic and subdued. If Menomena was the party on Saturday night, Lackthereof is the lonely rainy hung over Sunday morning when you have to go outside and pick up all the empties your friends left in the bushes. But the lyrics aren't really the focus, of course; the songs are driven by the multi-tier drums and bass. It's a strange effect for what would otherwise be lo-fi rock songs in the vein of early Sebadoh or Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.

"Let You Down As Good As I Did!" features the layered looping drum tour de force. The drums are joined by the kind of fuzzed out guitar that were common on Menomena (in fact, Brent and Justin play on this album, too). "Abstinent Dry Sex" is another fun song and, once again, the drums take on an almost techno/jungle feel, but they are reeled in by a Kim Deal-esque heavy eighth-note bass line. The song that explains the tale of the titular Christian the Christian is great lo-fi fun and probably the best moment on the album. It features fuzzed out guitar and the aforementioned trippy rhythms in spades. The song segues seamlessly into "Safely in Jail," and the album starts rolling after a meandering start. Only on the second half of the album does Seim reclaim the seeming spontaneity that best suits his work.

At the end of the day, Seim's considerable production skills and ability to construct insanely catchy rhythms add immensely to what might be ho-hum songs otherwise. He uses his stuttered drums and rubbery bass lines and fuzzy guitars to superglue tunes to the inside of your skull in a manner that's simply insidious. The fact is, listen to this record once and it will stick in your head annoyingly; listen to it twice or more and you will become that annoying guy in the super market browsing for ripe tomatoes making ridiculous drum sounds under your breath trying to recreate Seim's songs. While this collection isn't quite as strong as last year's Menomena disc, it's still a worthy introduction to Seim's solo work. At the very least, it's something to tide us over until the next proper Menomena release. In the meantime though, try not to get caught beat boxing to Lackthereof in your local produce section.