The Living Proof
As apathetic as the grunge movement supposedly was, the one thing it was staunchly opposed to was progressive rock. In the current era, the rampant eclecticism of anything hunkered under the indie-rock umbrella has outdated such rules, making way for bands like Milwaukee’s Mortgage Freeman. The group’s debut album, The Living Proof, is a less-than-precise shepherd’s pie of keyboards, occasional mumbly vocals, and a horde of guitar tones straight out of early-’90s Seattle. It’s a sloppy, flannel aesthetic convoluted by the noodling and shifting tempos of modern jam bands and, yes, prog rock. And somehow, it works.
Mortgage Freeman has local acts like The Fatty Acids and Sat. Nite Duets to thank for fostering a fertile atmosphere for this kind of ramshackle, kitchen-sink rock, at least in Milwaukee. There’s also a veritable Jonathan Burks influence apparent in the vocals, particularly in “San Antoine” and “Clay, Sand And Silt,” and the loose, animalistic harmonies and shambling beat owe an obvious debt to The Band. These influences don’t make for a derivative-sounding record, though; if there’s one word to describe the music on The Living Proof, it’s “invigorating.”
The various riffs that make up “Moons Over Pluto,” one of several ADD-addled instrumentals, intensify and dissolve into each other giddily. It’s not a complicated tune, but it’s arranged brilliantly. Opening track “In The House Of Galifrey” is a similar proposition; the notion that these songs feel like they’re on the verge of falling apart only heightens the excitement. “Be Gentle Yentl” is the only clunker on the album. It has its moments, but it’s a little cheesy, the musicians’ proficiency doesn’t live up to the quasi-epic song, and the solo piano interlude gets a bit tedious. The mini-jam that ends the track sort of absolves the inopportune balladry, though.
The singing isn’t bad, but as it happens, the band is at its best when it gets heavy and eschews words. “Herb Alpert Has Your Parents” is equal parts Mudhoney- and Melvins-worship, then gets psychedelic with some Beatles-esque backwards guitar, then takes off as what sounds like a very imprecise Yo La Tengo. “Video Game Rotunda” touches on Soundgarden, Yes, and kraut/psych, then ends suddenly as an off-kilter solo-piano ragtime stumble—actually quite an inspired ending to the album. It’s a bold—yet not quite assured—debut that should appeal to a wide variety of rock fans. If the band’s chops ever catch up to its ambitions, look out, world.