Jason Kaminski’s keeping busy these days.
His band, Stalemate, released its sterling sophomore album (Long Way Down) in 2012. But rather than take a break from tune-smithing after a run of promotional gigs for the disc, Kaminski ferreted himself away to produce the 2013 solo album Odd, Peculiar Brain.
And that’s in addition to his day job (the nature of which we won’t disclose any more than Batman would divulge Superman’s bespectacled alter-ego at The Daily Planet).
Now the Stalemate boys are back with their third effort, the invigorating (yet introspective) Permanent Things. The independently-issued CD dropped last month on Amazon and iTunes (links below), and will be supported by another slate of shows in blue-collar bars and midsize venues across Northeast Ohio this winter.
The disc is yellow, but it ain’t mellow.
Adhering to rock ‘n’ roll’s time-worn “if it ain’t broke” edict, Kaminski and his Elyria-based band search their souls and scour their cerebrums for a baker’s dozen ditties that dish on relationships, romance, and 21st Century reality in a complex world wherein norms constantly shift, gender roles have blurred into an indecipherable grey, and whatever expectations haven’t been completely jettisoned out societal windows have been raised to nearly insurmountable heights.
Modern life is stressful. Fortunately, Stalemate shields itself with a wicked sense of humor—and jabs at impending malaise and doom with a quiver of keen melodies. Kaminski and company also have their fingers on pop culture’s throbbing pulse: At least half the tracks on Permanent are front-loaded or back-ended by amusing soundbites and audio clips culled from Stalemate’s TVs and telephones.
But it’s the lungpower and instrumental prowess of Kaminski (guitars, vocal), Joe Fish (guitar, vocal), Phil Martin (bass) and Rob Schuster (drums) that charge these alt-rock proceedings, much like novelty breakfast cereal sends sugar coursing through a toddler’s already restless frame. This Stalemate album is feisty and finicky: Permanent boasts short (all under 4:00) but serrated songs whose melodies refuse to sit quietly at their desks, and whose restless rhythms come with built-in authority issues.
Opening cut “Hearts Wrapped in Tinfoil” fades to life from out a cacophony of ambient crowd noise (perhaps a concert audience) and pretty guitar arpeggio. Its lyrics also establish a sort of running theme that threads all the songs: Just as “crazy” people attempt to ward off unwanted mental transmissions with Reynolds Wrap headwear, so do we take steps to guard our delicate hearts from jostling by outsiders. We play games, put on pretenses, run with the pack, and talk ourselves up to maintain dignity and save face.
“You don’t have to pretend everyone is your friend,” rages the chorus over Martin’s clucking bass. “Make up your own f—king mind!”
Mandibular missive “Bones Teeth” commences with a Cleveland Clinic appointment reminder before encouraging an unseen paramour to be carefree—yet candid: “Use what you can of me…say exactly what you mean.” Schuster’s bass thump and snare thwack lend momentum to Kaminski and Fish’s tandem guitars as Martin underpins the punky post-it (whose verse gives the disc its title). Conversely, “I Smell a Rat” finds a lovesick Lothario surveying the burning bridges and vain sacrifices of a broken affair whose smoldering debris is suggested by the notorious internet clip of TV news anchor Ken Batista mistakenly reporting a colleague’s fatal immolation.
The moody self-actualization on “Hang Around” is sweetened by catchy chord changes and ebullient vocal harmonies (“I need another way to deal with getting through the day”). Likewise, “Bright Lights, Salty Mouth” ponders a life change the morning after a night of hard living—as underscored by the “Doors closing!” (lost opportunity) caution of an automated O’Hare subway conductor and subsequent train track rumble (life goes on). The antihero in “Breadwinner” is ready to throw in the towel on his love affair, since he seems to be the only one making an effort:
“Give me a reason, because I don’t know what I’m doing here,” rattles the ultimatum over fuzzy guitar and a propulsive pop-rock rhythm.
The uppity, buzzy “JFK Memorial Parkway” is another stinging soundtrack to Stalemate’s struggle against mundanity, complacence, lethargy, and status quo (“We kick around the same ideas…I feel like I’m suffocating.”). “Black Friday” juxtaposes post-Thanksgiving consumerism with a confidante’s unbearable narcissism (“It’s not about you all the time!”), while argument epilogue “Those Words” employs quiet jangly guitar strums—and then, suddenly, stuttering power chords and pummeling percussion (“You were hauling me up ten flights of stairs!”) in an explosion of repressed hurt and anger.
The fast, plucky “Andy Kaufman vs. Jerry Lawler” sets to music the 1982 rivalry between the New York standup comedian and Tennessee wrestling superstar, and amidst the outrageousness comes a plaintive cry to desist with the tomfoolery, let the show go on, and have bygones be bygones. Just like real life.
Other amusing bits include Stalemate studio banter (“Why are you yelling, Phil? There’s microphones everywhere!”), a phone message informing a delinquent Kaminski he’s got all of five minutes to get to a gig, a call to help bond a buddy out of jail, and a recording of a cashier asking a shopper whether he’d like his receipt ($74.19) in hand or in the bag.
Perhaps the most affecting pastiche is the one prefacing album-closer “This Is Water,” wherein late journalist David Foster Wallace (The Pale King) shares his famous fish parable with the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College. The song—like the speech—warns against banal platitudes and blind acquiescence in favor of newfound awareness of oneself and his (or her) place in the universe.
Permanent Things has earmarks of the more educated alternative rock of the ‘90s (Gin Blossoms, Collective Soul), but we also detect traces of The Byrds, The Band, and Traveling Wilburys (Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, etc.) in Stalemate’s arrangement and execution. They’ve opened for The Ataris, rocked Vans Warped Tour audiences, and built considerable momentum with Silhouettes and Syllables and Long Way Down. With Permanent Things, Stalemate exhibits telltale signs of truly coming into their own.
Permanent Things at iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/permanent-things/id1051928437
Permanent Things at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/qg2veln
Permanent Things at CD Baby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/stalemate13