Music Reviews
2:15 pm
Mon February 24, 2014

Vertical Scratchers: Slashed Chords, Fractured Poetry

The members of Vertical Scratchers don't have to pretend: They are free spirits, making music that is at once tightly composed, whimsical and anarchic.

The vocals on a Vertical Scratchers song tend to be high-pitched and yearning. John Schmersal creates harmonies from his vocal tracks that have a keening romanticism. His guitar lines are a series of slashed chords — vertical scratching, and thus the band's name. At the same time, there's a compressed intensity to the tunes, which uncoil with a snap, again and again.

Schmersal's lyrics are, frankly, baffling most of the time — word salad stuff that is nevertheless often very suitable for the mood created by the music. For instance, the song "Run Around" contains this quatrain:

No worries wondering what will soon subside (for now)

Cupid replies that lie pacing in halls occupied

And I've been counting on numbers for all this time

All they can say is ok

Well, that doesn't quite add up as sense. But it is effective in conveying the urgency you hear tucked inside this fine little melody.

Daughter of Everything is one of those superb pop albums that isn't going to propel its creators into stardom. It's got one foot in the past — it most frequently reminds me of the curt punk rock of Wire's great 1977 album Pink Flag. And Vertical Scratchers' other foot is in the future — a future where its fractured poetry is not head-scratching but heartwarming. Right now, I'll take both of those reactions as a measure of just how good this music is.

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Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Vertical Scratchers is a Los Angeles based duo formed by guitarist John Schmersal and Christian Beaulieu on drums. Their debut album is called "Daughter of Everything" and rock critic Ken Tucker says it features an original sound that incorporates the influences of everything from the Beatles to early punk rock.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRETEND U ARE FREE")

VERTICAL SCRATCHERS: (singing) You know I lived on the land before I floated on air until its web made a sea. It wasn't really my intention at all behind me. I've never...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That's "Pretend U Are Free" and Vertical Scratchers don't have to pretend. They're free spirits making music that is at once tightly composed, whimsical, and anarchic. It's not often that I can play a song in its entirety in a review, but Vertical Scratchers makes that fairly easy. Here is "Turn Me Out" which clocks in at a little over a minute and a half.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TURN ME OUT")

SCRATCHERS: (singing) (unintelligible) was happy and tan but the world can change in the shortest range and it did so fast. I'd be happy just to roam around caught in the uptown like a big event with no ill intent but your (unintelligible). You came and turned me on as quickly as you turned me out. Well, I don't really know about what anybody says, what everybody says and what everybody says, but I don't even know about our plan about our day.

(singing) And I've ran a lot all day. I've ran it every day. You'll claim I'm out of mind, quickly as it could've been, quickly as it could've been, just like I was happy and quickly as it could've been, quickly as it could've been. You came and turned me on quickly as you turned me out. What if I didn't know any better than you? What if I didn't know any better than you? What if I didn't know any better than you?

(singing) What if I didn't know any better than you? What if I didn't know any better than you, what if I didn't know any better than you? What if I didn't know any better than, what if I didn't know any better than you?

TUCKER: As you heard, the vocals on a Vertical Scratchers song tend to be high pitched and yearning. John Schmersal creates harmonies from his vocal tracks that have a keening romanticism. His guitar lines are a series of slashed cords, vertical scratching, and thus the band's name. At the same time, there's a compressed intensity to the tunes which uncoil with a snap again and again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SCRATCHERS: (singing) Memory shards are shattering into my scar. And if I try really hard I can break them all out with a dart. But I don't recognize the pieces that i'm keeping of you. And I thought for us the rest of us in 2002. Now these memory shards are all that I have to go on.

TUCKER: Schmersal's lyrics are, frankly, baffling most of the time - word salad stuff that is nevertheless often very suitable for the mood created by the music. For instance, the song "Runaround" contains this quatrain: No worries wondering what will soon subside for now, Cupid replies that lie pacing in halls occupied and I've been counting on numbers for all this time. All they can say is OK.

Well, that doesn't quite add up as sense but it is effective in conveying the urgency you hear tucked inside the fine little melody.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUNAROUND")

SCRATCHERS: (singing) I'm still wasting idle time my own transgressions wreak inside of my heart. As you're clocking all of this in second time. Relations have gone and died. No worries wondering what will soon subside for now, Cupid replies that lie pacing in halls occupied and I've been counting on numbers for all this time. All they can say is OK.

(singing) Runaround and dream about you. Runaround and scheme with my two overtimes. Runaround and dream about a million people. Well, today is a divine...

TUCKER: "Daughter of Everything" is one of those superb pop albums that isn't going to propel his creators into stardom. It's got one foot in the past. It most frequently reminds me of the curt punk rock of Wire's great 1977 album "Pink Flag." And Vertical Scratchers' other foot is in the future - a future where its fractured poetry is not head-scratching but heartwarming. Right now I'll take both of those reactions as a measure of just how good this music is.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker reviewed "Daughter of Everything" by the L.A. duo, Vertical Scratchers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.