In 2016, J Eastman and the Drunk Uncles – a bar band from Minneapolis with an Uncle Tupelo obsession – released ‘No Capo Required’, a rough and ready EP that was as much a gutsy homage to their musical heroes as a no-frills love letter to musical fun. Not all good music has to be perfect and the Uncles seemed keen to champion that message. Two years on, the follow up ‘Pleasing Some of The People…’ keeps a firm hold on their slightly sloppy but incredibly gung ho style, but trades in some of the more rootsy elements for a tough but not always entirely tuneful power pop edge. Put it this way: with mid-period Replacements as part of the blueprint, you can’t help but hear more than a trace of the best music that sprang from their geographical roots on parts of this release.
It’s barely seconds before the Uncles’ sense of humour rears up. Driven by a riff that sounds like a cheeky nod to Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’, the track is the ultimate in self negation. “Don’t listen to me / I don’t know what I’m doing / So don’t listen to me” barks frontman Jesse at the outset, before following this with the equally flippant idea that he’ll even get the most simple things wrong, while the rest of the band lurch through an arrangement that pulls together bits of late 80s indie rock, a little garage and a whole lot of early R.E.M. magic. The main hook is ridiculously repetitive, but, all things considered, that’s part of what makes this track so appealing. A stand-out, ‘On Your Dime’ blends an old Replacements style, with bits of Watts and more influence from ‘Reckoning’ era R.E.M added, right down to the idea of being able to hear the young Michael Stipe tackle a very similar melody. While the bones of the number have an instant appeal – providing, that is, you like 80s college rock – closer inspection reveals some great playing. Guitarist Chad Dillerud, in particular, very much lifts the arrangement with some soaring lead guitar while drummer Alan Guindon adds a massive punch throughout. Chorus-wise, it’s a bit more subtle, but a few plays suggests there’s a great hook within the music…and in fact, a few more again suggests this could be the one of the Drunk Uncles’ best tracks to date.
Given the band’s Minneapolis locale, it’s an easy bet there’s at least one Replacements fan within the band’s ranks. This is absolutely exploited on the EP’s other classic cut ‘No Political Agenda’, a no holds barred rocker that could have come from the writing sessions for ‘Pleased To Meet Me’. Dillerud absolutely nails the obvious Stinson-infused trashiness within his playing, while Eastman’s slightly drawled vocal is a superb fit for the retro rock in hand. It perhaps crosses the line from homage into straight borrowing, but in short, if you’re in the mood for something that stirs up the best feelings from your favourite Replacements cuts, this is the finest you’ll find without Tommy Stinson’s input. It’s not big, it’s not clever, but try and resist the temptation to crank the volume…it’s almost impossible!
More of the Watts infused bar-room rock fills the intro of ‘Holding On’, before the number branches out into a more melodic semi-acoustic style that recalls some of the band’s prior obsessions with Uncle Tupelo. Providing a closer link with the band’s past, it’s hardly a surprise that everyone sounds at their most comfortable. Whether indulging in jangling rhythms or the hugely retro twin lead solo that appears to rise from nowhere, everyone appears to be enjoying themselves and despite the track rarely stretching beyond a mid-paced stomp, it’s got a big retro charm. The EP’s weak link, ‘Disaster’ serves up all kinds of historical tragedies with a knowing wink and then flips them off with the disappointment of a wrongly ordered drink. A similarly misjudged attitude informs the music, which in this case is little more than a heavy handed plod. Heavy drums underscore a chugging riff, while the vocals sound especially lax. By their own admission, the Uncles can be sloppy, but this track dives lower than that; this is almost nihilistic in its lack of melody or care, so it’s lucky ‘On Your Dime’ and ‘No Political Agenda’ more than make the EP worth hearing.
Lastly, ‘Spare Us’ mixes up a retro rock style with a rootsy 90s edge. It strikes a perfect balance between each of the Uncles’ preferred styles as the rock is joined by a slightly wobbly country edge, but as with the best Eastman material, it’s bloated riff and very naturalistic guitar solo are ultimately quite pleasing provided you don’t want perfection. There’s a lot to be said for solid bones, and with an equally confident bass line, crashing drums and a pinch of Frank Black & The Catholics to bolster things further, it’s certainly recommended listening.
‘Pleasing Some of The People…’ moves between gutsy rock and bar-room sloppiness in a way that could make you wonder what’ll come next, but if you’ve heard the band previously, there won’t be any massive surprises. Yes, there’s an unease here, but within the wobbliness there’s also a self-depreciating brilliance and it’s that – along with a love of Buck/Mills/Stinson/Westerberg [what a band that would be!] – that ultimately makes the majority of this material so likeable, warts ‘n’ all. Just don’t expect perfection and you’ll find some gold within.