That’s What She Said are no joke
It’s easy to dismiss, out of hand, these high school bands who play at the Well, the Grange Hall, the Elks Club. They haven’t been around long enough to have been exposed to enough music, enough experiences, enough learning. They’re naïve and idealistic. They’re kids.
But — you saw this coming — that would be a horrible mistake. There’s nothing like the creativity, the impetuousness, the bravado of youth. (Damn if that doesn’t sound old.) And if you can get those same kids to have a sense of history, and not lend an undue importance or originality to what they’re doing, it’s possible they can combine their raw energies and talent into an enjoyable, if not revelatory, band. It’s the recipe that has served That’s What She Said extremely well.
Talk about young, these kids were born in the mid ’80s. They’re variously arrayed as students at Deering, Gray-New Gloucester, and Cape Elizabeth high schools. They populate the Portland Youth Wind Ensemble. They really like ska.
It’s a young person’s music, after all. With a driving two-tone rhythm, there’s not much complicated about it, and the shout-out choruses and horn blasts cater well to short attention spans and exuberant energy. However, as with other “young music” — three-chord punk, beat-box rap, acoustic folk — it can be really bad and derivative if there’s not a spark of imagination and talent to drive it.
That’s What She Said display both of these necessary qualities on their debut EP, Deep Down We’re Shallow (ah, how excellently self-aware). It is fun, danceable, well-produced and recorded, and engaging for even the most calloused musical connoisseur.
This is thanks in large part to frontman Dan Lohmeyer. His guitar rhythm adeptly moves from the two-tone bop that is the backbone of each song’s verses to the crunching alt-rock nods that punctuate many of the choruses. But it is his distinctive voice and honest (if not particularly witty) lyrics that really drive the album.
The disc’s opener, “Just Friends,” plays on a theme that resonates throughout the EP’s eight songs, and one that must resonate throughout the band’s many teenage lives: This girl I like doesn’t want to go out with me. With a nasally, crisp voice tinged wýth irony, Lohmeyer calls to mind the best of They Might Be Giants’ John Linnell and John Flansburgh, or even a bit of the Creegan Brothers, singing simply that “I wanna go out with you/ And I don’t wanna be your friend.” With a hyper-fast tempo, frenetic horns jamming their way into the tune, and call outs of “just friends,” the song works well as middle-class suburban Skatalites — none of the soul, but twice the energy.
“Not the Same” proves they can mix it up like the best of the Toasters or Pietasters. Drummer Ray Gauvin and bassist Sam Burns competently lead the band through numerous time changes, moving from a ballad opening, to “hup, hup, hup” dance-hall bandleading, to an alt-rock chorus where we even get some quality harmony.
That same harmonizing, featuring the female voices of tenor sax player Laura Zukowski and trumpeter Carol Jumper, opens “She Doesn’t Care,” another lament from sensitive-guy Lohmeyer about being painfully neglected: “Well she acts/ Like everybody else I know/ And she doesn’t care about me/ And she’ll never go with me/ To the shows.” Though he didn’t get to be a teenager until the decade was nearly over, Lohmeyer sounds eerily like a ’90s man.
He’s got a literary feel, too. Both “Gun to My Back” and “Games” make good use of metaphor, the latter employing the nice Clue-inspired turn of phrase, “I didn’t do it to you/ Not in the billiard room/ With the candlestick/ You did it to yourself/ Hiding in the negative space.”
With a legitimate tight and focused, four-member horn section (rounded out by sax players Adam Jackson and Adam Tinkle), and a solid knowledge of forbears like Reel Big Fish, Big D and the Kids Table, and the rest of the two-tone army, That’s What She Said have little trouble qualifying as above-average ska. Certainly, they should make a run at staying together once they go to college.