CD Review of Dynamico by Mitch Easter

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Released: 2007
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For a time, in the '80s, Mitch Easter was a sort of rock-music Zelig – he was a member of Sneakers with schoolmate and future dB Chris Stamey, he produced seminal recordings by R.E.M., he set power-pop hearts aflutter as a member of Let's Active – but his instrumental role in jump-starting the indie marketplace, and the way he helped shape the face of college radio well into the '90s, hasn't made him a household name. Quite the contrary, actually; Dynamico, Easter's first solo album, is his first recording in 18 years.

Happily, the time off – which Easter spent largely behind the boards (mainly at his studio, North Carolina's Fidelitorium Productions) producing and mixing tracks for artists including Ride, Pavement, Marshall Crenshaw, and Dinosaur Jr. – doesn't seem to have dulled his chops. He might be part of rock's over-50 club, but his voice remains essentially the same wiry instrument that sent “Every Word Means No” onto college playlists over two decades ago; in a lot of ways, Dynamico picks up right where Easter left off in '88, and will be a shockingly pleasant treat for a lot of longtime fans.

You don't need to be an old power pop aficionado, however, to appreciate this album. Though Easter still sings like the guy whose videos some of us still remember from MTV's “120 Minutes,” the intervening years have scuffed and darkened his sound. A lot of critics pegged the work of Let's Active, the dB's, R.E.M., and their peers as “jangle pop,” and while that was lazy shorthand, and not really descriptive of what those bands were doing, it was at least understandable. There's only the faintest echo of that sound here, however. You catch glints of it – bouncy, airless drums here and there; the tuneful, candy-coated squall of guitars and snotty harmonies in “The Phantoms of Ephemera” – but Easter's guitar, in particular, is a changed animal, all wiry knots and hard, chromed angles.

Where Easter disappoints here is mostly in the lyrics – many of them are so frustratingly insular that they border on the non sequitur, like “Crime mobile phone tabbouleh thriller / Foot-candle glut international,” from “Glazed” – and when he does bother with a linear narrative, as on “Why is It So Hard?” and “Dusky Lair,” he tends to do a lot of aimless complaining. It's understandable, though; if you've ever known someone who owns a recording studio, you probably know it's impossible to deal with the clientèle for long without becoming something of a misanthropist. And anyway, if Easter's a crank, he's at least a talented one. Here's hoping the next album doesn't take so long.

Dynamico is currently available exclusively from the 125 Records store – and if you're a fan of this stuff, you'd do well to acquaint yourself with the rest of the label's offerings

~Jeff Giles