Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
It's a claim that's preposterous to ever utter as there are so many nooks and crannies to account for, so many different tastes and criteria to consider, but on behalf of the entirety of Daytrotter, I will confidently and without shame or waver make this statement: Joliet, Illinois' Union Suit Characters could very well be the best unsigned band in the whole United States of America. Had we gone about the near-impossible task (which most everyone else makes seem so easy) of compiling a year-end list of best albums of 2008, we would have been inclined to have placed the ramshackle, somewhat shabbily recorded, occasionally distorted full-length record from this group - which goes by the title of "Streetcar Legs" - near, if not at the top of the pile. Oh, that seems nuts, right? The year gave us all of these polished and cool records by all these cooler, hipper bands that people know about. How could a band that's yet to perform a single live show have made one of the best albums of the tens of thousands of albums that were made over the span of the year? The answer is anyone's guess, but a casual or determined to debunk listen to "Streetcar Legs" and all of its spectacular lo-fidelity wonder is unlocked and there to behold. It's a record that never loses us, just takes us into another oddly decorated room in this clapboard house that's not of this time period, but of a forgotten past where there were scratchy beards, suspenders, overalls, the sweat of a hard day's work and calloused hands on nearly everyone except the governors and the bankers. The songs are bathed in soda pop and are built upon some of the most inconspicuously impressive songwriting that's come around, out of the blue in a very long time. It's unfussy and it's pure, giving off the sensations that we're listening to the long-lost home recordings of Paul Simon, The Shins' James Mercer, Midlake's Tim Smith or Beaulah's Miles Kurosky, given over to the effortlessly stunning arrangements and the agile use of language pinning new discoveries into all of the inventive stories of men of bygone time or men of the present using imaginative hindsight to create a different world that feels as if we could never step into without it vanishing from the taint. The two members of the group (William Nemecek and Mike Moloney) go by the names of Elmer Smudgegump and Clancy Snapgirdle sometimes and they're truck drivers by day for a prominent food distribution company, writing and recording their music at nights and on weekends in the living room of the aforementioned Moloney's home in the run-down, blue-collared railroad yard neighborhood. You'll hear whistles, car horns and dogs in the background of songs on "Streetcar Legs" and they're just added bonuses, making these songs feel even more real while still feeling utterly mythological as if they've yet to happen. Moloney comes up with lines about roses being red like barbed wire and phrases such as "I want some babies/Tiny lips to kiss me in the park/We can play with strangers and make coffee late at night/Come a little closer so I can listen to our hearts/Make sure they're bigger than the both of us," in the incredible "Sunday Babies" and we have no idea where we are or what we're listening to, just knowing that it's pleasing. So, that's where we're left. It's up to you to decide from here.
Union Suit Characters Official Site