In all honesty, I could not resist getting my hands on this musical coordination by Rob Crow and Zach Hill, because a) I like the music of both Pinback and Hella, and b) I could never imagine on my own how the two would be able to successfully join forces. Seeing as how Crow has traditionally relied on drum machines in the production of his songs, and Hill usually has an outlet for his wild drumming style only through experimental noise rock, the combination of these two rockers seems like a potentially hazardous experiment. However, I am pleased to say that this joining of forces was indeed victorious, in that it was enjoyable to both experience the music of They Mean Us and hear the guys have a little fun along the way.
Some songs on They Mean Us are distinctly Pinback while others are clearly Hella, which was overall very pleasant to my eager ears, but sometimes a bit confusing because I would forget who I was listening to. For example, “Vacation, Asphyxia, Vacation,” “Empathy on a Stick,” “So Much for the Fourth Wall,” and “Non-threatening” reminded me so much of “Offline P.K.” and other such Pinback gems that I could have sworn I was back in my car driving to meet some old friends at a San Francisco bar (which I was doing when I first listened to Blue Screen Life). Similarly, “Mandatory Psycho-Freakout” seems like a mandatory reference to Hella’s traditionally elaborate and rambling jams. And other brazen contributions by Hill in “Black Caesar/Red Sonja” and “Recycler 2” remind the listener of Hella’s noise-rock tendencies. Though the sets of songs tend to reflect either one sound or the other, “And them” and “Nice Chaps, Buddy” are very nice examples of Hill and Crow’s abilities to seamlessly play together without confusion of whether Pinback or Hella will dominate in the battle of indie credibility. The two influences that Crow and Hill bring to this CD are very distinct from one another, but somehow manage to smoothly complement each other, producing a resilient and circular sound. When listened to in its entirety, They Mean Us echoes some of the memorable sounds of Built to Spill, which demonstrates how much more The Ladies still has to offer to the world of rock and roll. This ultimately leaves us with the fact that these two guys are very talented, both in their abilities to flex their individual strengths and simultaneously work as a team.
Essentially, The Ladies is a disjointed and forcible Pinback, or a smooth and melodious Hella, if you prefer that comparison. This partnership demonstrates that Hill and Crow blend very well, effortlessly bringing together the trademarks of the two bands. I would hesitate to say that these Ladies create an entirely new and unique sound – but then again, who knows if that was really their goal? And, quite frankly, who the hell cares? Hill and Crow are clearly enjoying themselves in their collaboration, playing off of each other’s talents in a whimsical fashion, which makes the listener feel like a jolly old man living next door to a college garage band jam session (albeit a very talented college band). These guys are having fun making music and being flexible with their talents, and while I won’t be parading around saying that The Ladies’ debut has changed my life, I certainly enjoyed myself along the way.
Pinback – Blue Screen Life
Hella – The Devil Isn’t Red
Built to Spill – Ancient Melodies of the Future