Written by: Dave Cantrell
As we approach the end of the year and then finally tip over into 2016, SEM thought it wise to, once again, play a little year-end catch up. Over the next four or five weeks a smattering of reviews will appear covering 2015 releases, missed the first time around because we were too busy with other projects around here or just because we’re a bit daft. Whatever the reason, we’re happy to make amends (apparently this is a good time of the year to do that sort of thing). With all that said, let’s start with a long-time ally in the indie trenches, Mr Terry Eason.
Thousands of years ago, in 1984, a somewhat skewed and wholly compelling record emerged out of Minneapolis. A sometimes vertigo-inducing melange of American midwest post-punk with woozy prog tendencies, avant-pop a la Ralph Records, and a willfully serrated college rock waywardness that might attend Pere Ubu, it was called Sorta’ Like Normal and was self-released by a band called North Equator Nine. On the musical map of the time you’d find them at a midpoint as you drove out of the whacked-out West Coast experimentalism of Negativland and towards the punkier insouciance of D.C.’s 9353, and the effect it had was like being on an expressway to your soul, your skull, and a pinballing field of neurons all at once and it was very arresting indeed.
Among the propagators of this fine madness was one Terry Eason, a man born, raised, and still living in the Twin Cities area and, as evidenced by 2015’s solo outing Terminal Leave, still propelled by the impetus inside to bring his considerable mojo to whatever project he involves himself in. Now of a more autumnal disposition as the passing of decades is want to instill, there’s nonetheless no shortage of the spark and verve that drove NE9, even as this record’s crucial thematic pivot is soaked in the amber of the past (the sepia-toned cover is a shot of pre-cubicle America, acres of drone desks on a factory-sized floor. At one of them sits Eason’s then-young mother who’s only recently passed in 2013 – hence the title – and to whom the album is dedicated). Though in the main a more conventional rock album than Sorta’ Like Normal‘s off-kilter mayhem may presuppose, a fierceness of life still prevails.
Again self-released, this time on his own Easonic Temple label, Terminal Leave in some ways can remind of Chris Butler’s mighty 2014 opus The Easy Life – the unvarnished autobiographical bent, the past-as-prologue tendencies – while, for the most part, structurally building itself, and deftly, around more conventional song forms, which, frankly, is among the record’s signal strengths.
Opening track “Shadow Game” sets something of an emblematic tone, beginning as a man alone with his acoustic tripping along for a couple measures to memories of grade school before the full band drops in with a cascade of chime and thump and we’re off on an effecting romp through refracted nostalgia that fairly glistens with a regional glow, everyone from the ‘Mats to the Suburbs to Soul Asylum peeking out from those shadows. “Beautiful Child” follows up by following suit, as Eason now addresses his child, detailing that unparalleled love via the truly breathtaking sense of life seeming as suddenly brand new to the parent as it is in the newly arrived, the track brimming with a palpable urgency as if Eason has to get this out before his heart bursts with utter exuberance, something his unhinged guitar solo expresses with succinct glee. A bit later, “Red Bird Dream” unspools its allegorical narrative with a kind of light-handed chunky grace, the band bar-band tight and another explosive little electric solo killing it, while “Becky Bobino” goes for the high-octane churn of the type midwestern bands have been perfecting since those garages and suburban basements were converted into impromptu testing grounds on day one of the revolution, when the region’s blue collar work ethic got bolted to the eternal promise of rock’n’roll.
Fact is, when you’re intent on an honesty of songwriting this forthright and immediate, it almost certainly wouldn’t do to obfuscate or distract with too many odd time signatures or jarring key changes and such, which isn’t to say that, perhaps unsurprisingly, a glimpse or two of the shapes thrown around by the artist as a young man aren’t to be had here. On both the chopped-up rock funk of “Sorry Silver Tray” that’s constructed around the skirring, squelchy rhythm guitar of Wes Morden while sporting Eason’s burning Crack The Sky-like lead near the end, and the damn near XTC-ish “Take It Outside” that, when it’s not interspersed with a chorus that’s made out of pure pop grandeur like some kind of early-Bee Gees mysticism, sounds like clock gears dreaming of music and, yes, contains yet another, this time almost Zappaesque, guitar freak-out, the shadow of North Equator Nine looms slyly, fetchingly large. In other words, you can let time take the boy out of the post-punk experimental, but you can’t take…etc etc.
Albums like this can be tricky. Erstwhile avant-pop maestro (undeservedly somewhat obscure; one wonders how NE9 would have fared had they been formed in Akron) pursues his now seasoned, far more settled muse to create a solo album that more or less defines ‘October of his years.’ That can read as a bad idea on paper and, as too often happens, not sound that great once it reaches vinyl either. But in Terry Eason’s case on Terminal Leave, such trepidations melt away without so much as a minor stumble. Assured, lovely, driven and vital, what choice do we have but to nominate this record as one of 2015’s most overlooked.