The Glands might well be the best band I failed to listen enough to: intelligent lyrically, sophisticated musically, coolly sardonic thanks to the masterful touch of Ross Shapiro, founding member, front man, and in later years, the owner and curator of Schoolkid Records in Atlanta, Georgia. It takes more than a front man to make a band, and The Glands were a band that could do lo-fi louche, guitar band excellence and indie electronica precision and remain a master of all genres, rather than indie kid jack of all trades. Shapiro sings “I should have been more”, in So High. I remain perplexed as to why they were not hugely internationally successful. It is often said of the Velvet Underground that only 100 people listened to their first album, but all of them started up a band. The Glands are the Velvets of their generation, and from me that is a huge compliment. Artistically principled, experimental, hugely talented, decidedly left of center and round the corner from commercialism, whilst being infinitely listenable.
Any group of kids wanting to start up a band could do far worse than using The Glands as their blueprint for musical and lyrical excellence. Understated elegance rather than balls out rocking, is the name of the Glands game, though there is plenty of excuse to party when the Glands are on the turntable. Feelies from Double Coda, is a case in point. The song chugs along with sarcastic guitar licks, winding in-between that rhythm guitar forward propulsion that is every bit as biting as any Sister Ray Says, or Bowie alien boy jive, melding with almost traditionally ‘I love her, I want her, does she want me, I need her’ lyrics, given a sharp twist by Shapiro’s deadpan delivery. Is he being serious? Is he having a laugh? Is he being sarcastic…probably – that rhythm guitar, worthy of Keith Richards himself; and those almost stereotypical guitar licks that are just a little out of place, just a little awkward making, just slightly off course, have me betting that Shapiro really wasn’t in love at all, at least not with her…Who knows….perhaps only the band. I wouldn’t like to bet on it.
The 2018 box set, I Can See My House From Here compiled The Glands’ 1996 debut, Double Thriller with an expanded edition of 2000’s The Glands; and the exciting addition of their third album, Double Coda, a 23-song collection of previously unreleased material. Double Coda, the final album of the trio of Glands releases is a bona fide masterpiece. It is not an albums of scraps and discarded songs, rather a gathering of indie gold, the sound of a songwriter at his apex of creativity, and a band who were comfortable with each other and their sound. A truly engaging collection of songs, as digestible in parts as it is as a cohesive whole.
It remains the last word on The Glands output: taking the listener on a tour through the Depeche Mode flavored [A Screwed Up Way Of Saying] I Want You, with its driving drums, electronic keyboard bass line, and flatly delivered vocals; through the jangly guitar indie tour de force of tracks like So High, Ross’s plaintive voice, melding with the disinterested Velvet’s-like backing singers, is so evocative of a particular ’90s slacker kid vibe that I might have to dig out my Dr. Martens and velvet dog collar necklace and practice looking disinterested and unimpressed.
The Glands can take me on a walk back to the 90s anytime they want. There is an art, an alchemical science to creating music that is a Proust’s madeleine time machine, being so of the time it can transport the listener back there, whilst remaining fresh, new and interesting. Abba, for instance, dated badly. It is the cosplay go-to of the ’70s, whilst The Glands are everything that was right about music of the mid to late ’90s and early 2000s. These are my people, the natural successors to the cult crown, who really should have been more commercially successful than they were. This is both of the time, and naturally timeless music. It is such a kick to hear Ross in full bloom, a self assured front man with just the right amount of self depreciating biting humor, and an undercurrent of vulnerability.
The Glands are a band of contradictions, Electricity, with the vocals run through distortion remains steadfastly lo-fi, with overtones of Daniel Johnson keyboard innocence. Shapiro’s vocals pronounce some of the warmest lyrics in indie music with a disinterested sneer of flat restrained emotion. “I feel a current running from you to me/ it’s what we need/ Electricity!” The longing is fragile and half spent, a current flowing with reservations – “Is it positive, or negative energy?” he asks, summoning up the need for reassurance that the current won’t blow a fuse after all.
Rufino Tamayo is tightly packed lyrically, invoking waves of meaning by speaking the name of the genius painter, who is perhaps most famously known for his piece, Children Playing With Fire. As Shapiro intones, “They had a race to see who would live the longest/ without durations or compromises/Now they will see, no thanks to you…” Talking about people, just children really…playing with the fire of sex, drugs and rock and roll. This is the thinking music lovers indie band.
Double Coda – a musical term which demands the musician returns and replays the refrain to the end of the coda, hints at the intent within the collection – we are meant to dip in and replay. It is requesting we re examine our relationship to the music, to the band, to the genius that lays within. A request for a fair hearing. The Glands are more than overdue a fair hearing from anyone who has the ability to hear the organic gold that is being wrought from the raw materials, the lead of human experience, love, life, failures and successes, self doubt and self abuse. “I got so….oh oh oh…high. Baby, forgive me…or not…” Shapiro asks, declaring he feels, “so bad” – so bad, so high, so good.
Double Coda is not an album put together from bits and pieces, released as it was, after Ross Shapiro’s untimely passing in March 2016. Rather it is gathers itself together like magnetized iron filings. These songs belong together. They are as done as they ever needed to be. Any more smoothing and producing would smooth all the precious vox humana, that delicate blossom of real-ness that transmits the very heart and soul of the human condition via the notes and words of the songs.
Pie is one of the strongest tracks on an already powerhouse album. After fooling me into thinking The Glands were a bunch of nice boys, they decide to get down and dirty, Television-Tom-Verlaine eat yer filthy guitar jangle rock heart out! Snarling, biting, chiseling out their ‘piece of the pie’ instead of the armless Venus de Milo. Aggro overdriven guitar heaven. A rust soaked ‘junk car in the yard’ of a song, threatening switchblade violence. The song walks its black scuffed boots over any illusion of sweet vulnerable indie boy quietude I might have had, and I am more in love with this band because of it.
If Pie has an antidote, it might well be the boppy, poppy Pleaser, a paen to relationships going right, with only a few fears and reservations. Anxious indie, neurotically languid even when the beat is pushing forwards. Double Coda is an album of gems, there always seems something else to discover, get lost in, smile at or dance round the living room to. This is good medicine for such sad and troubled times.
Particularly beautiful is the love letter to a love that arrived a little late, that is Rose, soothing troubled souls with absolutely gorgeous vocals from Ane Diaz, its lush strings and gentle acoustic proving that the Glands boys really could do it all. It is a folky track that holds its own, a little like hearing Joan Baez do a Dylan song, an absolute treasure.
The whole album is a treasure.
Double Coda is a triumph. A worthy addition to the Glands lexicon. Infinitely replayable – take it back to the beginning and listen again and again. “Tears of joy, but beautiful all the same”, Shapiro sang in Saving a Place for You, and he could have been talking about Double Coda. The Glands belong in that rarefied group of bands whose influence and cult cache is greater than their fiscal and commercial success. Television, The New York Dolls, The Velvet Underground, The Only Ones…The Glands, clearly have earnt a place alongside them, as cult heroes of the musical underground. The sum of their importance should be matched by their bank balance. The world just isn’t fair. The Glands are surely worthy of a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I will save a place for them, one day the rest of us will catch up to their troubled genius.