I can’t stop thinking about this album.
When it dropped in December of last year, I’d kind of resigned myself to not writing about it, just given the way our coverage schedule usually falls out. Typically, I avoid running reviews of albums that dropped in the previous calendar year.
Really, though; that’s a rather arbitrary cut-off. And this album, this goddamned album. It simply won’t let me go.
(Obligatory disclaimer that Samuel Locke Ward is a long-time cartoonist for Little Village.)
When I was young, I was cool. I was never in the band, but I was always with the band. The doormen at the Brighton Bar in Jersey knew me, because my friends’ bands played there all the time. It was our place. Then I moved to Iowa. I was in my early 20s, with an infant to care for and a partner gregarious enough to do all the peopling for us both. I was comfortable hiding behind him and losing myself.
“This was gonna be my lucky break. Nobody knew they were fucked.”
This review isn’t about me, obviously. Except it is. Because this album is about all of us. It’s a balm and a wake-up call, wrapped into one eight-song homage to the last 20+ years of bullshittery that every one of us has put up with. Do you remember the ’90s? The way we had it all figured out? The Greenpeace boats, the Benetton ads, the Rock the Vote campaign? And then the 21st century hit.
“What do you do when you hit rock bottom, and the world continues to turn?”
Bob Bucko Jr. and Samuel Locke Ward’s Discount Sacrifice At The Altar Of Bargains kicks off with “Lucky Break,” an 8:33 epic opener that welcomes the listener into our collective open wound. (The two quotes above are from that track.) Ward’s vocals on “Lucky Break” are aching, a poignant Bowie sadness threaded through with a tightly controlled Cobain anger. Bucko’s instrumental work is jazzily experimental, knowing and cynical, filled with wisdom and almost resignation.
“Mapping the Way,” track three, is by contrast the album’s shortest, but it makes its point with drastic clarity: “Who among you set this right? … Someone’s got to do it.”
When track four begins, “You’re livin’ in a time of constant change, yet you’re still standing still,” it becomes clear that “someone” is us. “Drift in the Void” makes incredible use of the artists’ penchant for delicious layers of sound, drawing us in, begging for nuanced listening.
The pair smash the nail on the head a few times with track six, “Glory Days,” channeling King Missile with deep pathos and grace to tell the story of a former football star and a former cheerleader meeting in their local bar long after high school: “20 years passed by in the blink of an eye.” The sadness of the music frames the story, but the song is also steeped in empathy.
Ultimately, the elegance of this album can only be captured in its totality. The tracks are well worth listening to individually (and I’ve not even touched on my favorites), but held as a whole, this is a gorgeous, genre-bending storytelling experience and call to action that reminds us that we’re old, but we still have work to do.
This article was originally published in Little Village’s May 2022 issue.