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the rock i dig the most ’09: Visqueen

February 28, 2010

Within the first seconds of Visqueen’s Message To Garcia, on first track, “Hand Me Down,” the band announces its return with a classic, cranked up, Ramones-y riff that quickly gives way to pure distortion pedal driven pop rock. Its a sound welcoming and familiar to those of us acquainted with their excellent two previous records, 2004’s Sunset On Dateland and 2002’s King Me. The band had been MIA the past few years. Shortly after touring for Sunset On Dateland, singer/guitarist/songwriter/frontwoman Rachel Flotard decided to put Visqueen on hiatus to care for her terminally ill father. Her father unfortunately passed after a long battle with cancer in early 2008.  Message To Garcia, inspired by and in tribute to Flotard’s father George, is a heartfelt, pogo-inducing, life-affirming record about love that rocks.

Before jump starting Visqueen, Rachel joined up with friend Neko Case to serve up backing vocals in Neko’s touring band.  Neko returns the favor here, supplying backup vocals to a number of tracks on Message To Garcia.  Other members of Case’s backing band turn up here as well, providing an expansion to the band’s guitar/bass/drums sound, including a fantastic pedal steel guitar solo from multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse on “Beautiful Amnesia.”

The too catchy for their own good songs on Message To Garcia are still guided by Rachel’s chainsawing guitar chords, just as they were on those previous, excellent, two albums. This time around though the songs are accented by an extra layer or two of backing vocals, horns, cellos, a pounding piano, squealing organ, hand claps, the previously mentioned pedal steel solo and more. While the punchy aggression displayed on King Me and Sunset On Dateland is slightly dialed down on Message To Garcia, the songs are actually better for it. Rachel’s crystal clear, sweet megaphone of a voice is given more room to breathe and soar over the instrumentation rather than trading punches with the bash and pop of the guitars and drums. The punky riffed power pop takes one short breather altogether at the album’s half time for a bona fide ballad. “So Long” is Flotard’s poignant and direct sad goodbye and thank you of a love song to her father and even that finds a way to summon strength from the tears.

The second half of the album kicks off with the bouncy “Ward” with Rachel cheering on “Baby c’mon, c’mon, c’mon and turn it around.” This is the spirit of the record boiled down to one line of a chorus and not surprisingly is what could be expected from the songs of a woman who in her spare time has taught music to kids and gone to Laos on aid missions, building schools, handing out medicine and food to those less privileged than herself. Like seemingly everything else she appears to do, Visqueen is a force of good.

And for all it’s greatness, soul bearing sadness, sunshine, strength and rock ‘n’ roll, this is a record that couldn’t find a label to release it.  Seriously? Seriously. This is telling of the world we live in and the state of the record industry in general. While the top ten is consistently littered with celebrity clones singing meaningless auto-tuned, pro-tooled product for profit, a record full of musicians rocking out catchy tunes with beautiful voices singing lyrics penned from the heart of the human condition struggles to be heard.  Motherfuckers just don’t get it. Records like this are what it’s supposed to be all about.

Carrying on though is the point. Like any good fighters would, the band, now a four-piece, including Tom Cummings (guitar) and Cristina Bautista (bass) joining Rachel and drummer Ben Hooker, formed their own label and put it out themselves. Buying Message To Garcia, and I do mean BUYING it, listening to it, rocking the fuck out and enjoying it, even when it makes you tear up, feels like supporting all that is right in the world. Message To Garcia is one of my favorite records of the past year for all of the right reasons.

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