My Friends Are All Assholes EP
By Calum Marsh | 26 February 2009
One of the first bands I saw when I moved to Ottawa was a local group called Kepler. It was their last show, and it was a packed house. I’d never heard of them but apparently they were a pretty big deal, as bands from Ottawa go. They played a long and exceptionally entertaining set, and I enjoyed it very much—but I could tell it didn’t mean nearly as much to me as it did to the band’s real fans, the people who’d been there to see their rise and fall, their friends. Kepler finished their set with “I’m A Parade,” a sort of slowcore sing-along anthem. Most of the crowd knew the words and joined in. The band even invited some friends on stage—five or six people, guitars and mics all around—and barreled through it like one big family. Words like “community” and “scene” get thrown around a lot, but this is probably close to the central idea: a room full of people making music with and for each other, loving it and everyone. Sentimental? Maybe. But it’s a nice thought.
Another popular Ottawa band, the HILOTRONS, closed their 2008 record Happymatic with a cover of “I’m A Parade.” That they were poised to break out of the confines of Ottawa and hit it big with that record was significant: the average non-Ottawan listener won’t hear anything in “I’m A Parade” that isn’t contained within the song itself, won’t even know it’s a cover let alone a cover of a related but defunct Ottawa band. So what is it? An in-joke? A wink to the hometown crowd?
And now we have Male Nurse, who just released his debut EP My Friends Are All Assholes for free online. It also features a cover of “I’m A Parade,” affectionately retitled “I’m A Poo Raid.” I remember that one man band Male Nurse was among those hauled onstage during Kepler’s final show to help sing that very song—so, hey, more Ottawa history that very few people would know anything about. And it doesn’t stop there: everything about My Friends Are All Assholes points inward, toward its own city and its own mini-scene, from friends’ names brought up lyrically to the smiling faces adorning the album cover. There’s even a song called “I Love Matthew Cameron Oxley More Than Pizza And Sleep, Which Is So Fucking Much”—it’s like, is this an album or a Facebook note you’ve tagged your friends in?
So, yes, My Friends Are All Assholes is to and for friends of the person who wrote it, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that these songs are good. Male Nurse sometimes sounds like Hayden (“Goodbye Forever”), or Conor Oberst (“Andy Is My Only Fan”), or Will Sheff or Nick Drake or Elliot Smith and so on, which is a lazy way of saying that the dude sings pseudo-folk songs and has a somewhat unconventional singing voice. But where most of the songs are firmly “one-guy-with-acoustic-guitar” folk rock, two tracks—“I Prefer Sleeping Alone” and “I Could Never Be Sweet To You”—sound more like Titus Andronicus or Holy Steady-lite. What are we calling that now? “Whiskey rock”? You know, the music brings to mind images of drunks who look like Tom Waits playing rock music, loud and hard but not like metal and definitely not like Nickelback, with a bit of country or folk. Does that make sense? Well, that’s what parts of this EP sound like. Their comparative momentum are a nice change of pace, giving things a bit more range and variety.
And though the song titles might not be particularly indicative of such, Male Nurse is actually very gifted when it comes to sentiments and metaphors. One of the EP’s most significant virtues is its balance of endearing heart-on-sleeve earnestness and ironic/funny distance, flirting with both but never veering too far into either. The general impression being that Male Nurse doesn’t take what he’s doing overly seriously—meaning you don’t feel the need to roll your eyes or tell him to just lighten up, but that he still cares enough that the songs mean something to him and that, in turn, you’re open to allowing them to mean something to you, too. But the very best thing about My Friends Are All Assholes comes from the history the EP feels like such a love letter to: “I’m A Parade” is a really just a great song no matter who performs it, and Male Nurse’s cover is no exception. Maybe if enough Ottawa bands cover it somebody outside of this city’s borders will actually hear the damn thing.