Apache Dropout: Bubblegum Graveyard
With a goofy Grim Reaper stirring a cauldron full of guts front and center, the cover art for Apache Dropout‘s sophomore effort, Bubblegum Graveyard, could easily have been pulled from the bottom of a stack of 1950’s E.C. horror comics- those sensational, tawdry funny books that were in their time derided as the apex of artless trash and that, according to their critics, would be nothing less than the catalyst for a youth’s final descent into total moral bankruptcy. Flanking the reaper are headstones bearing the names of American candy titans Emil J. Brach and Milton Hershey. It’s a that detail feels important given the album’s near-constant allusions to sweets. Behind him are a fledgling horde of zombies – they are “Archie’s Army,” from which the opening track takes its name, led by the “undead Jughead” of that same song’s refrain, sporting the classic Archie character’s signature crown hat. The cover is important because, like the album, it’s chock full of Pop Culture references and, like the album, invites speculation about the state of pop culture. Do the tombstones represent the death of instant gratification candy culture? Is the zombie army representative – as it was in so many movies about the undead – of our tireless will to consume? And what about the Grim Reaper, an analog to the Crypt Keeper who narrated those dime store morality plays in the pages of E.C. Comics? Is he an observer to this tableau or its conjurer? The answers to these questions, in no particular order, are yes, no, and who cares. The cover, like the music, is moving in that it elicits questions without answering them.
All at once, Bubblegum Graveyard celebrates, bemoans, and eulogizes American popular culture in all it’s brightly colored, individually wrapped, immediately pleasing, nutritionally neutral glory. Brilliantly, it does so using the medium of the pop song, which, depending on who you ask and when, could be the vehicle for a culture’s transcendence of mediocrity or a symbol of its decadent vapidity. For Apache Dropout, with lyrics that run the gamut from playful to perplexing, it’s a structure that can be both, and simultaneously. “But you’re free you can go anywhere, in fact you can go far, I read it on the wrapper of a candy bar,” guitarist Sonny Blood croons brattily on “Candy Bar,” one of the album’s many high points. With a swagger in his vocal delivery of lyrics that are at once loaded and light, it’s easy to picture him mugging and preening like a sinister dandy as he emotes. Blood’s bluesy yowl belies a confident earnestness, kitschy but in the most contemporary way, cut from the Iggy Pop-Mick Jagger cloth. For their part, Anu Nath (Bass) and Lord Fyre (Drums), provide a rock solid rhythm section for Blood. The dynamic is at its best on “Katie Verlaine,” where a rock solid rhythm foundation gives way to a blistering guitar riff-out. Whether Apache Dropout is serious in their appreciation of the pop form or having a laugh at its simplicity is never made entirely clear. What is abundantly clear is the command they have of that form.