Saturday, March 21, 2015

EP Review: ‘Here is a List of Things That Exist’ by The Rentiers

Title:  Here is a List of Things That Exist (Square of Opposition Records, Death to False Hope Records, BandCamp [Square of Opposition], Amazon [vinyl], Amazon [digital], iTunes, Interpunk)
Artist:  The Rentiers (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)

The Rentiers is the brainchild of Plow United and Ex Friends’ Joel Tannenbaum.  On the band’s debut EP, Here is a List of Things That Exist, he was joined by Mikey Erg of The Ergs on drums, Chumped’s Anika Pyle added her sweet and sultry vocals to the mix, and Gym Class Heroes’ Tyler Pursel on pretty much everything else (including production).  The result is a splendidly beautiful four-song punky indie pop rock EP that is catchy as all get out, with hooks and harmonies that are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.  Lyrically the record is personal and hopeful while at the same time stark and witty.  This dichotomy of hope and defeat is best laid out in the opening track “Stories of Adam” –
All these stories of failure
They keep us warm like old blankets
Or sweaters out of a freebox
At 4 in the morning
When the fire is dying
When the fire is dying

All these stories of failure
Of guys who said “Fuck it.”
Of girls who said “Who gives a shit?”
And walked away with their dignity
Walked away with integrity
Yeah, I kind of call bullshit on that

All these stories of Adam
You know I saw him last weekend
At the Huntington El stop
And he asked me for money
And I was like “Are you kidding dude?”
Do you even know who you’re talking to?
You know that I used to do this too
Shit, once or twice I even did it with you
But he just kind of looked through me
So I got on the subway

All these stories of people
People like me and you
You know that I kind of like you
I get the sense that you like me too
Tell me, what are we gonna do?
Tell me, what are we gonna do?
Here is a song that highlights the failures of adulthood while at the same time spurning those who give up on life. 

“The Legend of Molly Pitcher” is a fun mix of historical and pop culture references brought together through discoveries of shared memories and driven home with some sound advice –
You found a marbleized notebook in the garage full of fan fiction about Nicki Minaj
And a mixtape labeled “Songs About Margaret Thatcher (and Ronald Reagan)
And an engagement ring with an amethyst inscribed “Here is a list of things that exist”
And a picture of your grandmother with Edith Piaf after the war
And underneath that is a wooden chest and inside of there you find a soot-stained vest
That belonged to some guy who lived and died like it was no big deal

I can’t concentrate

It comes and goes in waves
Sometimes it goes away
Sometimes it stays

I can’t concentrate

Keep the small rules, break the big ones
Keep the small rules, the small rules are the easy ones
For the people who will tell you how to live
The small rules are the only ones they care about or understand

I can’t concentrate

“Margaret Stackhouse” is a clever song about the famed high school student that impressed director Stanley Kubrick with her commentary on his classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey
In the morning, in the evening, I can picture Margaret Stackhouse
I can picture Margaret Stackhouse and she’s reading and she’s thinking
Of monoliths and obelisks and skylines full of minarets
A bricolage of languages, assemblages of meaning
And she’s reading in the morning, and in the evening

The EP closes out with “Votive Candles,” an intensely profound song about the ups and downs of life –
Those jackboots are made for marching and I’m afraid that’s what they’ll do
One of these days they’re gonna march the length of Woodland Avenue
To a half empty bodega that is staffed by an old man whose most deeply held belief is that
Life never gives you more than you can handle
Where are all the votive candles?

Repainted and refurbished now, the house we used to rent
We tried soundproofing the basement but we barely made a dent
The nights were pricked by sirens and the days went on forever
And we never called the cops when the substation was torn apart by vandals
We lit our rooms with votive candles

Life never gives you more than you can handle
Where are all the votive candles?

They never stopped the violence or reversed the wear and tear
But the mariachi’s silent now like it was never there
We marched in just like fire ants and burned out just like fireflies
And the flux goes on forever but life never gives you more than you can handle
Where are all the votive candles?

If life ever gives you more than you can handle
Look at all the votive candles

From start to finish Here is a List of Things That Exist is a stellar debut that showcases Tannenbaum’s songwriting chops and mastery of insightful and intelligent lyrics.  This is the kind of release that should appeal to a wide variety of listeners from fans of pop punk to power pop to indie rock to 90s nostalgia to the modern Philadelphia movement (The Rentiers’ hometown, along with the likes of Beach Slang, Luther, Restorations, The Menzingers, and Dave Hause).  Here is a List of Things That Exist is one of 2015 first great records and sure to be one of the best of the year.

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