REVIEW: “The Perils of Basement Culture,” from Folk-Punk/Ska Super-Group Meracula

Miraculous Dracula?

Imagine this: You’re standing, crowded amongst 50 other people, in the basement of an Allston apartment building. There’s a band playing, but you can’t really hear specifics because, again, you’re in a basement and the acoustics aren’t exactly up to par. Nevertheless, the music is deafening, and combined with the sweltering body heat of everyone around you, you begin to think this full-scale assault on all your senses is just an elaborate trick played on you by whoever brought you here. You’ve got about two sips left in your Genny Lite, though you wanted it out of your life six sips ago. Suddenly something drips from the ceiling onto your face. Is it sweat? (It is definitely sweat). Someone dances by and spills their beer on you, but you’ve accumulated too much of a general wetness for it to make any difference. Although this would have sounded like a living nightmare when described to you earlier that day, you suddenly realize that despite questionable odds you seem to be having a great time.

It’s an inflated example,  but this could easily describe a snippet of someone’s first experience at a basement show. Common in many Boston neighborhoods such as Allston and Jamaica Plain, basement shows offer a more intimate setting and have a more DIY feel than shows at proper venues. This aesthetic is represented pretty clearly in The Perils of Basement Culture, the new album by Allston folk-punk/ska super-group Meracula. Featuring members of FORT! The Band and The Takeaways, this band is made up of veterans of the Boston basement culture.

Upon first listening, this band clearly put in the effort to make their energetic and interesting live show translate on record. Tracks like “Uncle” and “KrakOa” come off as tighter versions of their live counterparts, while the former’s explosive coda sounds almost as close to how powerful it is in a live setting. The title track, having been recorded before this project by FORT!, exists on this album as the clearest and best recorded version of the song. Only 5 tracks long, the album moves by at a swift pace, with the majority of the tracks clocking in at around two minutes. However, through repeated listens hooks and interesting grooves reveal themselves and make the album seem longer than the sum of its parts.

As is the case with any super-group, it is often possible to cherry-pick certain key elements and sounds present in the contributing members’ previous bands that have morphed into the new band’s style. For instance, tracks like “KrakOa” showcases a rhythm section with a tenacity that can be found throughout much of The Takeaway’s most recent release. Similarly, singer/songwriter Andrew Lowrey brings the folk-punk-with-horns instrumentation that was present in FORT! The Band and is similar in style to bands like Neutral Milk Hotel. What works to this album’s favor is that even in its short run time it expands and experiments with this sound, a quality that seems to be present in the majority of my favorite albums. As a result, this record comes off sounding like a fresh take on a sound that I already actively enjoy.

You can probably recognize members of this band as some of the faces behind SHOP Productions, who have hosted countless Allston basement shows over the years. This makes the name of this album fitting, as I would imagine this band’s members have a multifaceted view of what it is like to be in the center of a city’s culture. Take the lyrics of the title track’s first verse:

The sweat that wets the floor
The half-broke basement door
The frequencies I won’t hear again

When read out of context, these words paint a picture of a basement that has been both literally and figuratively broken by the events of the night before. That, combined with the troubles from authority figures described in the second verse, is more than a hint of the perils that the title is alluding to.  Outside of this, the song is light and full of optimism, which underplays the negativity of the lyrics and proposes that such perils only exist at face value. This is cemented in by the very first two lines of the song (Hand-written stories line the walls/A testament that we were ever there at all), which suggest that the legacy created by these basement shows will in time mean more than the struggles apparent in managing these events.

Meracula last played at the release party for this album on April 5th. Check the calendar or Meracula’s Facebook page for upcoming shows. If you can spare a few bucks, head over to this Meracula’s Bandcamp and help support this local band!

BIG TUNES: KrakOa, Uncle, The Perils of Basement Culture