A few years ago, I went to this movie called Juno that you’ve probably heard about it. It was about a girl who got pregnant. My friend Mike Geary liked it, even though it was kind of a touchy feely indie movie, so that’s how I knew it was good. Anyway, there was this song and it had this line that went “Paul Baribeau took me to a big tire swing” and I screeched out loud. It’s not every day you go to a major motion picture and hear the name of some dude you played a show with in some weird performance space at a multipurpose space in front of like 30 hippie punk kinds into “folk punk” (for the record, I don’t think the music I played back then could have been considered folk punk and even though I played with a lot of Plan-It-X groups, none of the kids were into my shit). Folk punk is a stupid genre title, akin to emo. Anyway, Paul Baribeau is a pretty nice guy, a bit spastic and plays and sings real well. He didn’t get famous, though I guess Plan-It-X sold a few more records then normal after that movie came out.
As it stands, Plan-It-X is fading into the sunset in 2012 before the world ends, so I guess in a way it’s appropriate the Paul Baribeau released his new album Unbearable on his own. The kids these days just don’t understand the importance of record labels and I fear that this is going to be detrimental to musicians who are not business minded. It seems from perusing the blogosphere that not a lot of people even know this album is out and it sure hit me as a surprise when I saw it one day on the Plan-It-X website. But this has little to do with how great this record is. Paul’s prior two efforts have been largely short bursts of poppy punk energy, and while Unbearable remains ripe with those qualities, it’s feels as though Paul was only just scratching the surface.
Though he inhabits a very powerful voice in his own right, Unbearable features some doubling of vocals at key moments and this simple recording trick gives this album a bit more sonic matter making the often solemn songs that much more brooding. Also his chord progressions, which were always pretty intense have gotten hectic. The opening for “Rolling Clouds,” a cleaner version then the one release on a split 7″ last year, is one of the greatest intro’s I’ve ever heard. His playing is subtle and powerful all at the same time, traits that hundreds of loud ass bands fail to accomplish with mountains of distortion and thundering drums blasts.
Unbearable is not quite the album that Paul hinted out when he dropped that split 7″ last year, but it definitely shows growth in some new territories. His lyrical poetry is akin to the storytelling of many of the greats, Springsteen (who Paul admires) or John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats come to mind. If he ever decided to get a backing band or was given the opportunity to spend a proper month in the studio really letting the imagination burst from him, I think he would make one of the greatest records of a generation. But he seems contained by not have the budget or the time, no matter how much exposure a silly movie might have brought his way.
Punk rock is a precarious term, open to the individuals interpretation and so scrutinized under so many different microscopes that it almost seems like a lost term. Most “punk rock” could really have always been called rock music. Don’t get me wrong here, I love the Clash, but they didn’t really revolutionize rock and roll. There approach and politics may have been different and I wouldn’t argue otherwise either. I guess what I am saying, which I’ve probably said a hundred times before, is that punk is more of an attitude and an approach. There is nothing significantly punk about Green Day these days, that doesn’t mean they aren’t a great rock band, but they operate within a context that has little to do with what punk rock really embodies. And I bet if you made a rational argument they would probably agree.
Imperial Can are a punk band though, through and through. We could start with Chris Johnson’s history if we wanted to, but instead, I’ll just ask you to go to the Plan-It-X website and tell you to order the Operation:Cliff Clavin and Ghost Mice CD’s and you can see for yourself. So, musically is this a new direction for Chris, no, not at all. But that’s not really the fucking point. It’s got some awesome poppy punk guitar chords, lyrics that examine and sometimes criticize society as we have it today, and pretty much it’s short and to the point. At times it gets a bit overbearing, Chris as a song writer has a tendency to loose site of self editing. It’s clear he’s putting a lot of thought into the ideas he sings about, but sometimes it’s to the detriment of the music and the song. But frankly, if you don’t know that going in, then I can’t really help you out here.
But this is clearly a fuck you type album, so truly, who am I to say anything (full disclosure, I’ve played a few shows with Chris and even got to go on a few days of tour with him last year). The cover features a penis skewered on a stake and being erected by an army of rats. Honestly, I’m not sure what to make about that. It’s a bit unnerving actually. But the album does feature song titles like “Hey Fuckers”, “Sometimes a ‘Fuck You’ is Called For” and “The End of the World Came…It Was Bored, It Left”. So while the record is smart and sonically awesome, it also has that bratty quality that makes for the best of a Plan-It-X records. The snarky, intelligent punk rocker is a rare find, and I fear the day when Plan-It-X is no longer providing this perspective to the world.
This record isn’t just about the band Imperial Can, which is a bit unfair of me to say. But it is representational of a community and of a certain idealism that has all but faded from the musical landscape. Everyone seems to need a booking agent, myspace, free downloads, 10 t-shirt designs and a tour manager (when the fuck did bands start getting tour managers again?) in order to “make it”. Plan-It-X has always made it themselves, whatever they wanted to do and in a way that used to be be sustainable to the label, fair to the bands, and more importantly, fair to the supporting fans. Hey Fuckers should be a wake up call to all the kids as all the great ideas and great people that make this art are being either co-opted by bullshit or are being forced out of the picture because all that above bullshit has made punk rock less then sustainable. I don’t want to see that happen, it’s just too important to me. But when Plan-It-X closes shop, a lot of what I love will be no longer.