Release Date: Feb 25, 2014
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
John Schmersal and Christian Beaulieu may seem like odd musical companions, considering Schmersal’s habit of twisting pop and rock sensibilities in Enon and, especially, the excellent Brainiac. Meanwhile, Beaulieu has played in muscled epic rock groups like Triclops! and Anywhere. But the two find connection in defying expectation, in working not just on the sound but the visceral nature of music, the feel of it.
Brevity is an oft-forgotten and underappreciated quality in the arts. Perhaps it’s just me, but I’m willing to wager a good number of us find our attention spans far shorter these days and growing ever more so over time. Yeah, it’s probably all the in-your-face social media and whatnot, which we should probably chill out from time to time; nevertheless, staring down a ten-plus minute track runtime or numbingly watching that runtime clock pass the one minute, two minute, and so on mark before hearing any sort of discernable melody can prove exhausting.
The 20-year career of John Schmersal has been one of alternately ceding and seizing the spotlight. In the mid-90s, the guitarist first appeared as a Keith Richardsian foil to the jacked-up Jaggerisms of vocalist Timmy Taylor in Dayton, Ohio berserkers Brainiac. After Taylor’s death in a car crash in 1997 brought that band to a sudden end just as they were about to record their big-league debut for Interscope, Schmersal resurfaced as a charismatic frontman in his own right with Enon, the Brooklyn-based outfit that released four inspired but unheralded albums of electro-shocked pop before dissolving in 2010.
Vertical Scratchers' first album, Daughter of Everything, shows that there can still be a learning curve for almost any group, even if its members are veteran musicians. This collaboration between the ever-busy John Schmersal and former Triclops!/Anywhere member Christian Beaulieu is much more direct than Schmersal's other 2010s project, Crooks on Tape, which focuses on the quirky sonics that used to decorate the music of his previous band Enon. Indeed, this is some of the most straightforward music of Schmersal's career, and Vertical Scratchers are at their best when they make the most of their classicism.
Vertical Scratchers — Daughter of Everything (Merge)Like dogs that resemble their owners, sometimes bands embody the innate qualities of their names. (See: Devo; The Clash; Rancid.) Vertical Scratchers is John Schmersal (ex-Brainiac and Enon; currently of Caribou and Crooks on Tape) and Christian Beaulieu (ex-Triclops!, Anywhere), and the name they’ve chosen quite literal, referring to the physical act of scraping a plectrum across a guitar’s strings. For better and for worse, it’s also one of the most persistent defining characteristics of the record, as the Schmersal’s percussive strumming is often audible, even over Beaulieu’s powerful drumming.At times, it’s used to great effect.