by Tom Alexander (@___alexd)
One of the first things you’ll notice about Community College is the physical, tactile nature of their music. Throw on their debut album, Comco, and you’ll hear it in the first few seconds: cautious drums, a slowly picked guitar that flubs its fourth note, and vocals that sound like they were recorded in their first take. These tiny imperfections all add up to a really wonderful sense of being – Community College is a band that occupies a space, that exists, that is making music. Now, this all sounds like pretentious nonsense (I know), but Comco feels like it is being made while you hear it. A lot of records come across like a collection of sounds, and they may be good songs, but they rarely communicate the feeling that the songs are being made by actual, individual musicians.
Of course, I may just be thinking too hard about a band whose lyrics include lines like “My NASCAR porn is overrated” and “Fossil fuel-er / Stay with Bueller.”
Comco’s slow, moving, and slow-moving expression will evoke comparisons to Horse Jumper of Love. And hey, that feels about right, not just Community College does sound like Horse Jumper of Love, but because Community College shares two-thirds of that band’s line-up. John Margaris (vocals / guitar) and Dimitri Giannopoulos (bass) are joined by John’s brother Dan on drums. Given the similar DNA (in more ways that one), the two bands share similar influences: Bedhead, Built to Spill, and Silver Jews, specifically. No bands have been better at capturing the “slowcore” sound of Bedhead than Community College and Horse Jumper of Love. While the drums and bass provide a working outline for each song, the patiently picked guitar scarcely fills in some of the air, such that when a strum comes along, it feels like it should be accompanied with an exclamation mark.
Margaris’s lyrics are also a highpoint, and an excellent example of how hyper-specific sensory details can not only draw a listener in, but give the listener the impression that they know the person behind the pen. In fact, many of these tracks wouldn’t feel out of place in a flash-fiction creative writing course. For example, album highlight “Karaoke” is only six lines (not unusual for the short nature of many Community College songs), but those six lines establish the narrator is such vivid detail, that you can probably guess what kind of food she/he eats at night: “Karaoke is for losers / I grew up when I bought a telescope.” Margaris takes other lines that feel surreal and that turn them into amusing, cutting insights. For example, in “Gasoline,” “My insides are gasoline / I used to be a dinosaur / I remember being hunted to extinction.” Taken at face value, it’s a fun lyric that sounds strange and cool over a guitar riff. But considering the narrator as a person who sees their core composition – their very matter – as the hunted, dead, and extinct? Good grief, that’s good stuff.
That kind of ultra-specific detail is what Comco is all about, not just in its lyrics, but in its idiosyncratic arrangements. Every note feels different, and even if it the same beat repeated, it all sounds new and freshly-made. By keeping these songs sounding like demos, they sound all the more personal, like you are peeking in on three guys in the act of creation. It sounds so real, so authentic that other bands (even the ones you love) sound jarringly distanced.