I’m rarely impressed by die-cut vinyl releases. I mean, sure – oddly shaped music-playing vinyl is neat to look at. But that just can’t be all it is for me; I need good music to come out of it when the needle touches it because the music is the important part of the package, right? For example, when Wu Tang Clan and Sony Music released a die-cut single for Record Store Day last year, it was neat, but the fact that the songs could have been better-chosen detracted exponentially from the final product.
That knowledge and experience threatened to color my impression of the U.S. Mail single by Lenny Lashley’s Gang Of One before I even put it on my turntable. Cut to look like an oversized postage stamp, the single has a ‘gee whiz’ quality which can’t help but get attention but, happily, the songs pressed into the single (two cuts from from Gang Of One’s Illuminator LP) genuinely deserve it. Both tracks betray a certain sense of rebirth which is impossible to ignore or deny and very easy to appreciate – especially coming from the former Darkbuster frontman.
Those expecting the sort of Oi! that Darkbuster traded in will be shocked totally off balance as “U.S. Mail” warms up this single’s A-side and goes in a more distinctly songwriter-ly direction. Softer of timbre and more melodic, “U.S. Mail” actually swings closer to a cross between New Wave-era Against Me! and Gaslight Anthem than anything else. Here, Lashley aims for a more cathartic and melodic slant as he laments life in a band on the road and ends up sounding truly lonely and isolated.
It’s hard for a listener to not feel his heart get heavy as images of the lady love Lashley’s left at home come into focus, and it gets heavier still as the song’s hero gets further from home – yet it’s impossible not to see a light at the end of the tunnel as the words “those two belong together” close the song on a major chord to give a little optimism. It’s that sense of hope which will get listeners to flip this oddly-shaped piece of vinyl over and try to figure out where exactly the song on the B-side begins.
After multiple attempts to get my stylus to drop in the right spot were finally met with success, “Hooligans” did not leave me questioning if the effort might have been wasted in the slightest – it is the superior side. On first listen those who hear “Hooligans” will recognize the song for precisely what it is: a classic indie rock anthem in the Replacements and Gaslight Anthem tradition but with a distinctly Bostonian flavor.
The cockles of the hearts of listeners of the right mind will begin to warm as the classic ‘Mats/Gaslight-esque chord progression which supports lines like “We grew up down the block together/ We got in trouble with the law/ We never worried ’bout long lost love or romance” firms up and locks in. That is the winning moment – while there’s precisely nothing new about “Hooligans,” there doesn’t really need to be; it has just the right heart, right tempo, right progression and right feel to be the first career-defining anthem Lenny Lashley can call his own. Not only that, but this is the song which will inspire those who hear it to go and find the LP on which it also appears in hopes of finding a few more songs of a similar stripe. This is the song which can inspire enduring love for and belief in Lenny Lashley – it really feels that important when you hear it.
…And after the B-side ends, of course listeners will want more of Lenny Lashley. That’s the proof of how important this single is; this small release inadvertently proves that there’s life after indie punk for Lenny Lashley. This single shows that the singer has a bright new beginning in a whole new line, and it might just be a brighter one. That’s a really exciting possibility; it’ll be interesting to see what comes next.
(Pirates Press Records)
Lenny Lashley’s Gang Of One’s U.S. Mail die-cut single is out now. Buy it here, directly from Pirates Press Records.