You know those days when nothing seems to go right and everything that can go wrong, does? Yeah so, 100% true story of one of those days that happened to me just last week. I teach photography at a summer camp and my two children attend other programs in said camp and I woke up late and needed to get myself and my kids dressed, fed, and out the door in under 10 minutes, classic me. I ran down the stairs calling after the kids “let’s go, we gotta go!” to find my two cats huddled around the baseboard of the wall in the foyer. “What the…?” I said aloud as a tiny mouse is hopping around my house like a damn club footed miniature kangaroo. So I shoo the cats away and with one hand holding my cup of water and the other stretched to the floor between my legs, which are now bowed unnaturally outward, as I waddle like a total dip shit after this mouse which has now run into the dining room. I am finally able to corral this tiny hobbled rodent and grasp him with my free hand. Now in super slow motion, in my recollection anyhow, I raise my hand to examine the little dude. As I peered into his eyes he glanced back at mine, his perspective seen through an exaggerated fish-eye lens, of course, and he chomped his little gnashers down onto the knuckle of my index finger. Now back in frenetic full speed, I let out an “Owwww fuck!” and did the only thing I could think of in that moment in order to avoid another bite. I slammed little Gerald into the cup of water that I had in my other hand and covered the top with my now free but mouse bitten hand. I walked briskly through the kitchen, swung open the back door, and tossed the cup and it’s contents out onto the deck. With a splash Little Gerald was motionless and stunned for a second or two. He then shook his head as if to dislodge the water from his ears and took off across the deck jumping through the railing and off the side like a lemming. I looked over to my neighbor’s and turned around hoping no one saw what had just happened, only to find two slack jawed adolescents looking at me dumbfounded and somewhat horrified. I smiled and asked, “Ready for camp kids?”
There’s no room or need to recount the remaining hijinx from this once in a blue moon day, but I make note of it because for some, these type of days feel all too familiar and commonplace. It’s hard to suggest that anyone who has “made it” in the music business deserves your pity but there are some who just can’t seem to catch a break, nice guy ‘Milwaukee’ Mike Krol is one such artist. First and foremost, it should be noted that this review is of his first two albums reissued this month by Merge Records. Mike Krol is Never Dead: The First Two Records is a double LP of his first two albums, I Hate Jazz and Trust Fund self-released in 2011 and 2013 respectively. The “Counter Counter Culture” label attributed to the release of his first two limited run albums is a nod to Krol’s sense of humor and perhaps a commentary on his relocation from the wholesome Midwest to the birthplace of the counterculture in California.
As so succinctly stated on his artist page on Merege’s website: “Mike Krol got his bike stolen and his heart broken. He bailed on graphic-design-as-career. He kept playing drums and guitars, and he kept writing songs about the stuff he hated and the stuff he loved. Leaving Milwaukee for Los Angeles, he took a few years’ worth of wrong turns.” Even today in the wake of his well deserved reissues and his well received debut on Merge with 2015’s Turkey, Krol is finding it hard to receive the attention he so duly deserves. Not to be soured or disillusioned by a barrage of “no response” reports from his publicist, Krol turns bad news into great comedy by offering a limited run “Lack of Press” T-shirt. It is precisely this kind of self-deprecating spirit that makes loving his music all the easier.
Photo from Mike Krol’s Instagram @mikekrol
Even when things were looking up, Krol took another kick to the bucks (bad Milwaukee pun, sorry) when fans were alerted by Merge Records that “shipping has been stalled due to an unforeseen pressing delay”. Well the music is finally in my hands and I share with you all that it was well worth the wait.
I’ll begin with I Hate Jazz, Krol’s debut album, even though I found it within the Trust Fund sleeve and vice versa; poor guy. The album includes 8 songs, 7 of which are 2 minutes long or less. Of course, one’s first thought might be to liken his songs to a band like The Ramones whose 150+ songs average just 2:30 minutes in length. Sure there can be parallels drawn, but the length of Krol’s songs and the speed and fervor with which he rips through many of them are not their enduring hallmark. Rather it’s the witty and catchy songwriting that provides a scaffolding for the catchy guitar fuzz and wobbly organ melodies to adhere to like static electricity on a cheap suit pulled from an American Tourister suitcase. It’s vintage and yet relevant in a manner that is simultaneously nostalgic yet remarkably refreshing and contemporary. I’d be quicker to reference the likes of Ty Segall and early Thee Oh Sees tunes. Still it’s Krols autobiographical lyrics that find a way to rise above the dizzying guitar riffs to grab hold of the listener and put you in his shoes as you bounce around in your keds. “Like A Star” finds Krol singing over a contagious guitar riff: 4.2 light years away. I was slow to begin but I’m ready to fade. I’ve been alone now for my whole life. And I see black while you see white. In the dark, I’m burning light for you. And that way, you can follow me home. While in “Fifteen Minutes” Krol asks: What if I told you that the world was gonna end? And you had fifteen minutes to spend with me or your friends, Would you take the first bus over to my house, Or would you take the last plane over the West Coast. “Heart Attack” features Krol’s twangy vocals reminiscent of an R. Stevie Moore while “Seventeen (Age)” recalls an On Avery Island-era Neutral Milk Hotel vibe. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Merge put out both records.
Trust Fund bolts immediately out of the gate like an angry hound with the 30 second anti-ballad “Plague”. I think your love is a plague and I want to runaway. Runway from you. Goddamn! And I want to runaway. Run away from you. I want to runaway. Runaway. Runway. From you. Followed by the equally irate “Cease and Desist”: I’m sending you a cease and desist in my heart. It’s all your fault and everybody knows it. You made a fool of me from the start. And I’m surprised I never could’ve seen it. I hope you get it someday, when everything is going great ‘cause I’m sending you a cease and desist.
The funny thing is that while there’s genuine pain and anger in these tunes, it’s more of a teen angst that visualizes like an episode of Degrassi or My So Called Life. Krol shares these crisis moments in sonic and lyrical form but rages against their potential to define who we are now. As such, Krol’s music is as much a protest of these shitty moments as they are a reclamation of them to be used as catalyst for progress and creation. What Krol has crafted in these first two records is undeniably human centered, honest, and raw. So toss these records on your turntable and jump around on your bed while screaming out the lyrics to these genius tunes.
Note from the author: Since the original drafting of this review the author has since been bitten by a bat and may or may not have contracted rabies. If the veracity of this statement is in question please feel free to visit @gregscranton on Instagram for proof of said bat bite. It should also be noted that the author would be flattered if a Mike Krol review was the last of his career and of his life. Mike Krol is Never Dead, but sadly the same cannot be said of the bat bitten author…..?