Young Fresh Fellows
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

The Fabulous Sounds Of The Pacific Northwest, 7/10
Topsy Turvy, 6/10
The Men Who Loved Music, 7.5/10
Empty Set
Totally Lost, 6/10
This One's For The Ladies, 6/10
Electric Bird Digest , 6.5/10
It's Low Beat Time , 7/10
Minus 5: Old Liquidator , 7/10
Minus 5: The Lonesome Death Of Buck McCoy, 6/10
Minus 5: In Rock (2000), 6.5/10
Minus 5: Let The War Against The Music Begin, 5/10
Young Fresh Fellows: Because We Hate You, 5/10
Minus 5: Down With Wilco , 5/10
Minus 5: I Don't Know Who I Am (2003) , 5/10
Minus 5: At the Organ (2004), 5/10
Minus 5: Minus 5 (2006), 5/10
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Nessuno durante gli anni '80 ha saputo interpretare la tradizione del rock con la stessa autorita` e lo stesso brio degli Young Fresh Fellows. Venuti a galla nella "nice wave" del Nordovest che durante i primi anni '80 tento` di affermare un'alternativa "educata" alla barbarie punk, gli Young Fresh Fellows si emanciparono presto da tutte le scuole e presero a sfornare dischi in cui prendevano in giro sistematicamente tutta la storia della musica rock.

Il gruppo si formo` nell'estate del 1983 per iniziativa di Scott McCaughey (canto e basso) e Chuck Carroll (chitarra). Reclutato Tad Hutchinson (batteria), cugino di Carroll e fresco laureato, i due registrarono in un solo weekend una quindicina di canzoni che servirono per comporre il "demo tape" Big Pile Of Happiness e il primo album, The Fabulous Sounds Of The Pacific Northwest (PopLlama, 1984).

L'immagine che il trio proietta e` quella di liceali mattacchioni, usciti diritti da un film dei Monkees o da un party dei Blues Brothers. Il sound e` elettrico quel tanto che basta a renderlo piacevole al gusto moderno, ma in realta` cerca le sfumature amatoriali dei Sixties, come fanno tanti altri imitatori del garage-rock. La differenza e` la classe. E soprattutto la sfilata mozzafiato, implacabile, travolgente di brani perfettamente congegnati. A svettare sono soprattutto i rock'n'roll ipercinetici di Rock'N'Roll Pest Control, Power Mowers Theme e Empty Set Takes A Vacation, trasformati in farse demenziali; ma ad essere saccheggiati sono tutti i generi degli anni '60, dal beat di Think Better Of Me al folkrock di This Little Mystery, dal surf di A Humble Guy al texmex di You Call That Lonely (la melodia migliore di tutto il disco, ottenuta intrecciando Buddy Holly e Roy Orbison); e il trio prova anche armonie da novelty piu` complicate nello ska per luna park di View From Above. Difficile resistere alla tentazione di una musica tanto accattivante.

Con l'aggiunta di Jim Sangster al basso (in modo da lasciare McCaughey al canto e agli arrangiamenti) gli Young Fresh Fellows assunsero la configurazione classica. Dopo una cassetta natalizia, Merry Croutons Mr Gulp Gulp, quintessenza della loro comicita` demenziale, e un singolo, Young Fresh Fellows Update/ Three Sides To This Story, esce finalmente il secondo album, Topsy Turvy (PopLlama, 1985).
Il gruppo non demorde ma accompagna le prorie satire con una musica vigorosa e trascinante. How Much About Last Night Do You Remember, You've Got Your Head On Backwards, Two Lives e soprattutto Where Is Groovy Town costituiscono una sequenza di rock and roll e boogie mozzafiato da far invidia a qualunque complesso di garage-rock. Ma non e` cambiato il piglio ridanciano dell'operazione: l'album si apre anzi con la colossale satira di Searchin' U.S.A., a ritmo ska, country e texmex, che prende in giro i miti e gli stereotipi dell'America di provincia, e continua di quel passo senza pieta` per i costumi contemporanei.
Si avvertono comunque segni di cambiamento nella cantilena hawaiana di Mr Salamander's Review e nella novelty ubriaca di Trek To Stupidity. Il clou del disco e` anzi Hang Out Right, una ballata "dylaniana" dal tono religioso che non c'entra assolutamente nulla con il resto del loro repertorio.

Il loro capolavoro rimane forse il terzo album, The Men Who Loved Music (Popllama, 1987), che faceva seguito al felice singolo Beer Money/ Fillet Of Soul/ Cruster's Theme. Il sound, potente, travolgente e compatto, incorpora una forma isterica di ska (Just Sit e Why I Oughta), ed e` radicato nella musica nera (indegno il boogie da roadhouse Unimaginable Zero Summer, addirittura ridicolo l'enfatico rhythm and blues di Tv Dream, sacrilego il ruggente e frenetico blues "ferroviario" I Don't Let The Little Things Get Me Down, immondo il rabbioso gospel melodico alla Them/Animals Get Outta My Cave, uno dei loro vertici), sempre contrassegnato da violenti intermezzi strumentali, con la chitarra scatenata e un'assordante sezione ritmica, il loro e` ormai un sound che vive indipendentemente dalla comicita` dei testi.
L'eclettismo viene ancora confermato nelle fucilate funky di Amy Grant (destinato a diventare il loro brano piu` gettonato), nella vignetta country di Hank, Karen And Elvis (sempre a deridere miti americani), nel bluegrass a rotta di collo di Two Brothers, nel rock and roll sfrenato di Where The Hell Did They Go, per finire a tuffo negli swinganti anni '50 di I Got My Mojo Working (un altro dei loro capolavori). E quando azzeccano il ritornello giusto il loro infallibile powerpop da cabaret fa schizzare tutti in piedi, come in When The Girls Get Here. E` forse (insieme al primo) il disco meglio riuscito della loro carriera.

Il gruppo e` anche attivo su altri fronti. Sotto lo pseudonimo di Mighty Squirrels, a partire da Ernest Anyway (Popllama, 1986), accompagnano il cantante Rob Morgan, parodiando gli anni '60 e la filosofia hippie, e sotto lo pseudonimo di The Empty Set suonano e compongono sull'album dell'amico Jimmy Silva, Remnants (PopLlama), e si ripeteranno negli anni successivi su Fly Like A Dog e Heidi (ESD).

Il mini-album Refreshments (PopLlama, 1987) raccoglie Beer Money e Young Fresh Fellows Update, e due nuovi classici: Broken Basket e Back Room Of The Bar.

Il quarto album (propriamente parlando) e` Totally Lost (Frontier, 1988). Il titolo porta male, perche' e` la prima opera del quartetto a deludere le attese: Picky Piggy, No Help At All, Little Softy e il Totally Lost Theme tengono alta la bandiera del bizzarro, ma all'insieme mancano i brani memorabili. Peggio ancora: poco dopo Carroll si ritira dalle scene.

Nel 1989 i tre superstiti (McCaughey al canto e alla chitarra, Sangster al basso e Hutchinson alla batteria), pubblicano la cassetta Beans And Intolerance (un bootleg autorizzato a nome di 3 French Fellows 3). Nel frattempo McCaughey compone anche un'opera solista, My Chartreuse Opinion (PopLlama, 1989).

Il chitarrista Kurt Bloch dei Fastbacks decide di unirsi al terzetto per il quinto album, This One's For The Ladies (Frontier, 1989). Meglio del precedente, ma sempre inferiore ai primi tre, sfoggia almeno due classici: Middle Man Of Time (un boogie alla Lou Reed incrociato con una canzoncina surf) e The Family Gun.

Il 1990 e` un anno intensissimo, in cui il gruppo sfrutta la popolarita` seminando a piene mani canzoni in giro per il mondo (discografico). A ripetizione escono: l'EP antologico Includes A Helmet (Frontier) a giugno, il singolo Divorce #9/ Halloween 247, il singolo Two Guitars, Bass And Drums/ Someone I care About (entrambi a settembre), la cassetta GAG Fah ancora a settembre, il singolo Dancin' In The Moonlight/ Do You Care Theme a ottobre (accreditato ai Gunsharp'ners), il singolo Motor Broke/ Equator Blues a novembre. Su diverse compilation appaiono We're The Best, High Time, Sometimes I Wantcha For Your Money. Degli Squirrels Group (il solito assortimento di sessionman per Morgan) viene pubblicato un altro album di parodie, What Gives (PopLlama, 1990), e usciranno poi Harsh Toke Of Reality (PopLlama, 1993) e Scrapin' For Hits (Poplust Audio, 1996).

Electric Bird Digest (Frontier, 1991) e` invece l'album piu` professionale della loro carriera, all'insegna di un power-pop da classifica. I quattro non sono mai stati cosi` seri e la serieta` appiattisce un po' l'impeto dei loro rock and roll (Tomorrow's Gone, The Telephone Tree), anche se, sull'altro versante, nobilita ballate delicate come Whirlpool. Il clou del disco sono i ritornelli powerpop, candezati e contrappuntati da riff marziali: Evening, Looking Around, Hard To Mention. L'attenzione melodica arriva a lambire i toni del beat in Once In A While e Sittin' On A Pitchfork. Per quanto gli Young Fresh Fellows tentino palesemente di sfruttare la moda del grunge (e l'effetto e` di aumentare le somiglianze con i Kinks e con i Replacements), si tratta comunque di un'opera nettamente superiore alle due precedenti, che fa leva sulle loro indubbie capacita` esecutive e compositive.

L'album viene preceduto e seguito dalla solita nuvola di uscite caotiche: i singoli Don't Blame It On Yoko/ With A Big Book, Sick And Tired Of Me/ They Raided The Joint/ Booze Party, Purple Sweater/ Lance Rock, Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah/ Skycraper Of Facts/ The Teen Thing e i brani di compilation Black Betty, Yankee Magazine, I Just Sit There/ Our Last Show/ Pammie's On A Bummer.

La progressione verso un pop surreale di gran classe culmina con It's Low Beat Time (Frontier, 1992), le cui canzoni sono manuali di composizione: Right Here e` esemplare nel fondere melodie beat, armonie vocali folkrock e arrangiamenti hardrock; quell'altro gioiello di She Sees Color aggiunge riff di punkrock e ritornelli psichedelici, a immagine e somiglianza degli Who; e l'abilita` di arrangiamento delle "giovani matricole" splende ancor piu` in fantasie come A Minor Bird in cui il tema cambia di continuo, eppure conserva una sua paradossale linearita`. E` in quest'arte di mosaico e sovrapposizione che meglio si esprime la loro filosofia musicale.
Cosi` razzolando, brani come Snow White (con la melodia peggio sprecata dalla storia del rock) usano gli stessi mezzi musicali ma per immergersi nel genere di musichall da saltimbanchi che li rese famosi alle origini. E qui si apre lo spazio immenso delle loro gag, dallo strumentale Crafty Clerk, su un motivetto che sembra uscito da un teatrino degli anni '30, a Mr Anthony's Last, un nuovo classico nella tradizione del bozzettismo ironico portato in auge da Kinks e Bonzo Band.
A differenza dei tre dischi precedenti, il gruppo si guarda bene dal rinnegare le sue tendenze al "Sixties revival": lo spirito dei Sonics e del "Farfisa-sound" viene riesumato per il rock and roll di Whatever You Are; le arie psichedeliche permeano Two Headed Fight; e le danze scatenate di quell'era rivivono in Low Beat. E sempre in zona si situa Monkey Say, un ruggente rhythm and blues con tanto di barrito di sax e cadenza voodoo. Quest'album e` anzi quello che esprime in maniera piu` esplicita e piu` compiuta il loro spirito epigonico nei confronti degli anni '60.

Senza mai finire di stupire e sorprendere nel 1993 gli Young Fresh Fellows pubblicano il singolo Stewed/ Something True (Who Cares), che si immerge nel soul degli anni '60 e nei "lenti" ballabili.

Storica istituzione del rock moderno, prolifici e geniali come Mozart e pochi altri, gli Young Fresh Fellows vantano un repertorio sterminato che conta innumerevoli classici: You Call That Lonely e Empty Set Takes A Vacation (dal primo); Searchin' U.S.A. e Where Is Groovy Town (dal secondo); Beer Money (il singolo); I Got My Mojo Working e Get Outta My Cave (dal terzo); Mr Anthony's Last (dal settimo). Che sono fra le poche vere gioie di quest'arte. Mezzo secolo (a dir poco) di musica rivisitato secondo un'ottica che non e` ne` demenziale ne` filologica, ma semplicemente geniale.

I loro primi dischi ridefinirono il concetto di pop music, a uso e consumo di gruppi piu` fortunati come They Might Be Giants e Smithereens. Infiniti party non sarebbero stati gli stessi senza le loro colonne sonore.

Scott McCaughey's bizarre melodic genius was the brain behind the Young Fresh Fellows demented rock'n'roll with irresistible hooks The Fabulous Sounds Of The Pacific Northwest (1984). halfway between the Kinks and XTC eventually achieved the elegant, surreal power-pop of It's Low Beat Time (1992) The Men Who Loved Music (1987) was still very eclectic, but focused more coherently on black music. Scott McCaughey also formed Minus 5 in 1993 as a side project, recruiting the the Posies' songwriter team of Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, as well as R.E.M.'s Pete Buck on bass. On their debut, Old Liquidator (1994), they indulge in effervescent strings plucking, angelic synthesizers, West Coast-ian multi-part vocal harmonies, lilting piano figures, epic organ swirls, atmospheric guitar twangs and joyful guitar jangles.
(Translated by Paolo Degregorio)

Noone else during the 80s managed to interpret the tradition of Rock music with the same authority and liveliness as the Young Fresh Fellows. They first emerged with the so-called North Western "nice wave", that during the first half of the 80s proposed a "well-mannered" alternative to the roughness of punk, but they soon became liberated from any formal scene and started forging records whose main objective seemed to be to make fun of the whole history of Rock music.

The band was set up in the summer of 1983 under the initiative of Scott McCaughey (voice + bass) and Chuck Carroll (guitar). After having recruited Carrol's newly graduated cousin Tad Hutchinson (drums), the band recorded about 15 songs in just two days which were subsequently included in the first demo entitled "Big Pile Of Happiness" and the first album, "The Fabulous Sounds Of The Pacific Northwest" (PopLlama, 1984).

The trio's image is still linked to the stereotype of the crazy young American; typically like the ones in the movies with the Monkees or in a Blues Brothers' party. The sound is electric enough to render it suitable to a contemporary audience, but it actually flirts with the amateur sounds of the 60s, as many other imitators of Garage Rock do. The difference, in this case, is in the class, and - in particular - in the breathtaking, unstoppable, overwhelming parade of faultless tracks. Outstanding levels are reached in particular in frantic rock'n'roll songs like "Rock'N'Roll Pest Control", "Power Mowers Theme" and "Empty Set Takes A Vacation", which have been trasformed into ironic farces. All the genres from the 60s are somehow quoted and reinvented, from Beat ("Think Better Of Me") to Folkrock ("This Little Mystery"), from Surf ("A Humble Guy") to Texmex ("You Call That Lonely" - featuring the best melody of the whole album, sounding like a mix of Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison); the band also tries out more complicated novelty-style melodies, in the Ska/amusement park sounds of "View From Above". Hard to resist the temptation of such captivating music.

With the arrival of Jim Sangster on the bass (in order to let McCaughey focus on vocals and arrangements), the YFF reach their classic set up. After a Christmas tape called "Merry Croutons Mr Gulp Gulp" (a concentration of their comedy) and the single "Young Fresh Fellows Update/ Three Sides To This Story", their second album finally comes to light: "Topsy Turvy" (PopLlama, 1985). The band doesn't show any sign of weakening, integrating their satire with a sound even more involving and strong. "How Much About Last Night Do You Remember", "You've Got Your Head On Backwards", "Two Lives" and in particular "Where Is Groovy Town" constitute a breathtaking sequence of rock'n'roll and boogie that any garage band would envy. But the comic approach hasn't changed at all: the album actually starts with the colossal satire of "Searching U.S.A.", a mix of ska, country and texmex, that makes fun of myths and stereotypes of rural America, and goes on criticizing without mercy the contemporary lifestyle. A few signs of change can be felt, though, in the Hawaiian "Mr Salamander's Review" and in the drunken novelty of "Trek To Stupidity". The best part of the record though is "Hang Out Right", a sort of religious "dylanian" ballad that doesn't have anything in common with the rest of their repertoire.

Their masterpiece is probably their third album, The Men Who Loved Music (Popllama, 1987), which followed the very good single "Beer Money/ Fillet Of Soul/ Cruster's Theme". The sound, still powerful, involving and solid, incorporates a sort of frantic form of ska (Just Sit e Why I Oughta), and seems rooted in black music (with the almost sacrilegous roadhouse-boogie "Unimaginable Zero Summer", the ridiculously pompous rhythm and blues "Tv Dream", the sacrilegous and bellowing "train-blues" "I Don't Let The Little Things Get Me Down", and in particular the ferocious melodic gospel a la` Them/Animals Get Outta My Cave, one of their pinnacles). This sound, constantly characterized by violent instrumental moments - where the guitar and rythmic section gets as loud as hell - in this album seems to become independent from their typically comical lyrics, to form a life of its own. The band also confirms its love for eclecticism in the funky gun shots of "Amy Grant" (going to become one of their most popular songs), in the humoristic country picture "Hank, Karen And Elvis" (once again a satire of American myths), in the dangerously fast bluegrass "Two Brothers", in the unrestrained rock'n'roll "Where The Hell Did They Go", with a final dive into the swinging '50s with "I Got My Mojo Working" (another masterpiece). When they find the right refrain, their infallible cabaret/power-pop knows how to make people jump, like in "When The Girls Get Here". This album is probably, together with the first one, the best record of their career.


Scroll down for recent reviews in english.
Take It Like A Matador (Impossible, 1993) is a live Young Fresh Fellows album.

Scott McCaughey formed Minus 5 in 1993 as a side project, eventually recruiting the Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow as well as R.E.M.'s Peter Buck on bass. The quartet indulges in effervescent strings plucking, angelic synthesizers, West Coast-ian multi-part vocal harmonies, lilting piano figures, epic organ swirls, atmospheric guitar twangs and joyful guitar jangles.

Minus 5's debut, Old Liquidator (Glitterhouse, 1994 - East Side Digital, 1995 - Hollywood, 1997), is one crazy album, running the gamut from shimmering folk-rock to mildly eccentric psychedelia. While McCaughey has aged and his galvanizing verve is now mere dinner-table irony (Emperor of the Bathroom, a` la Byrds), the band concocts lay hymns of sweet surrender such as the dreamy Winter Goes Away and Algerian Hook.
The album's secret weapon is McCaughey's sonic surrealism, best displayed on All The Time, an elegant falsetto ballad, vibraphone and all, repeatedly interrupted by cacophonous harmonica, drums, guitars and trombone, on Vulture (Tom Waits meets Syd Barrett), on the psycho blues-jazz of How Many Bones (perhaps the standout, with Amy Denio on mad saxophones); a parade of subtle masterpieces that ends with the Walkabouts's Chris Eckman and Carla Torgeson turning No More Glory into a cello-driven psychedelic delicatessen.
The combo can do more than accompany the leader's demented lullabies, and rocks out nonsense garage-rock such as Find A Finger, that sounds like Hang On Sloopy with the Rolling Stones' rhythm section, and Story, that sounds like the Stooges jamming with avantgarde composer Pierre Henry.
A forewarning of things to come, the majestically senseless singalong When It Comes My Way, that blends Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds, ends the album with maximum disorienting effect.
Hardly a pop album, this represents the quintessence of McCaughey's bizarre melodic genius.
(Bonus tracks on the CD include the prime Byrds of House Of Four Doors and the tender, waltzing Heartache For Sale).

The Posies duo remained and Buck co-write the material on The Lonesome Death Of Buck McCoy (Hollywood, 1997), that also featured Pearl Jam's Mike McCready. The line-up is therefore the same that played on Mark Eitzel's West, but the sound has bloomed into an ornate pop bouquet. Gone are the folk laments and the surreal arrangements. Melody reigns. The breezy bubblegum of Popsycle Shoppe is the standout. The country & western romps Moonshine Girl and Wouldn't Want To Care are close seconds. Paul McCartney would kill for the languid melody of The Rest Of The World Donovan would sing along the tender lullaby of Spidery Moon, and the velvety vocal harmonies Boeing Spacearium, and the Byrds are re-born wiser and bolder in Empty Room. Each Minus 5 album has enough gems to fill one Beach Boy and two Beatles albums, and make the originals look like amateurs.

The Minus 5 (now comprised of McCaughey on guitar, Buck on bass, Bill Rieflin of Ministry on drums and John Ramberg of Model Rockets on guitar) also released privately In Rock (Book, 2000), a collection of unusually (for them) powerful rave-ups that take on boogie (Dear My Inspiration), power-pop (Courage Is The Smallest Bird), hard-rock (In A Lonely Coffin), soul-rock (the savage Dr Evil), garage-rock (the epic Lies Of The Living Dead, the best song that the Fleshtones never wrote), etc. However, the standouts may well be the two exceptions on the album: The Little Black Egg, an Everly Brothers sound-alike with fantastic organ work by Chris Ballew (Presidents Of The USA), and the delicate homage to Myrna Loy. The last four songs of this album are simply divine.

For mysterious reasons, the Minus 5's Let The War Against The Music Begin and the Young Fresh Fellows' Because We Hate You were released as a two-disc package (Mammoth, 2001) rather than independently.
Except for a psychotic piano boogie a` la Velvet Underground (Ghost Tarts Of Stockholm) and a mini-suite that indulges in the vocal styles of doo-wop and of the Shirelles (Your Day Will Come, a collaboration with Robyn Hitchcock), the Minus 5 album is relatively uneventful (the band has delivered better pop than Great News Around You or One Bar At A Time in the past).
On the YFF album McCaughey is occasionally aware of being the greatest vaudeville songwriter since the Kinks' Ray Davies (Lonely Spartanburg Flower Stall, Fuselage) but too often the band wades through genre stereotypes. The thundering garage-rock of I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight and the anthemic punk-rock of Your Truth Our Lies (a cover) are not enough to redeem the rest.

Minus 5's Down With Wilco (YepRoc, 2003), which, as the title implies, is a collaboration with Wilco, is another mixed bag: the synthetic pop of Electric Light Orchestra and Alan Parsons (The Old Plantation) next to the eccentric orchestrations of Van Dyke Parks and Brian Wilson (The Town That Lost Its Groove Supply, Retrieval of You, That's Not the Way That It's Done); the confessional and melancholy style of Neil Young (Daggers Drawn, The Days of Wine and Booze) next to country-pop ballads arranged in Pink Floyd-ian fashion (View From Below). The same pros and cons surface in I Don't Know Who I Am (Return To Sender, 2003), another slab of classic but derivative power-pop.

Minus 5's At the Organ (Yep Roc, 2004) continued the program to assemble the most formidable line-ups in recent history (Scott McCaughey, Jeff Tweedy, Glenn Kotche, John Stirratt, Leroy Bach, Peter Buck, Mike Jorgensen, Rebecca Gates, John Ramberg, Bill Rieflin, Ken Stringfellow, John Moen, Jimmy Talent) to play some of the simplest and most genuine power-pop of recent history.

Minus 5 (Yep Roc, 2006) featured an impressive cast of collaborators: John Wesley Harding, Kelly Hogan, R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, the Decemberists' Colin Meloy, the Model Rockets' John Ramberg, Ministry's Bill Rieflin, Harvey Danger's Sean Nelson, the Posies' Ken Stringfellow, Mott The Hoople's Morgan Fisher, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt and Glenn Kotche. It is hard to take Scott McCaughey seriously, but it is also hard not to enjoy this satirical concept album that thrashes the gun culture of the USA. Aw Shit Man, Cemetery Row W14, Out There on the Maroon, Rifle Called Goodbye and My Life as a Creep are the musical equivalent of a Michael Moore documentary.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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