Occasionally my tireless searching for the more interesting and worthwhile bands and singer/songwriters of obscure music yields some happy, if not slightly unexpected results. That was certainly the case last week when, during an evening of perusing the contents of the less trodden corners of the worldwide web, I found myself at the Quote Unquote Records site. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Quote Unquote Records, it is a label founded by Jeff Rosenstock of Bomb the Music Industry. Strange as it may seem, Quote Unquote is a record label without records. Instead they offer digital downloads of very select bands and singer/songwriters from throughout the underground music community, and on a loosely implemented pay-what-you-can donation basis. Quote Unquote's philosophy is geared towards maintaining the DIY ethics of punk, remaining immovably anti-corporate and non-commerical, while offering exposure and support to those underrated obscure bands and singer/songwriters which they find to be exceptional. One of those bands -- the band upon which I landed during my extensive online search -- is Portland, Oregon's The Taxpayers.
Though The Taxpayers enlist the help of several auxiliary musicians, mostly good friends, when they are recording and sometimes at shows, the band typically centers on four core members -- Rob Taxpayer (guitar and vocals), Noah Taxpayer (drums and vocals), Phil Gobstopper (bass and vocals), and Danielle (accordion and keyboard). As far as Taxpayer releases go, the most recent is a full-length album titled "A Rhythm in the Cages." Each song on the album -- there are twelve in all -- marks its territory like any other animal in the musical wilds, by soaking it in its unique brand of piss. While punk rock is the most dominant style involved in The Taxpayers' sound, there are other styles present in degrees, such as neo-folk, insurgent country, garage noise and street rock. In fact, their sound is one that fits in just as well beside such bands as Against Me! and Lucero as beside The Riot Before, Andrew Jackson Jihad, and Fake Problems.
The Taxpayers are one of those bands that cannot be inserted easily into one musical category, since they refuse to be relegated to any one genre niche but instead run the gamut from their base sound of punk rock to a number of other styles. The songs on their albums go from one to the next, changing styles like one changes one's socks, only they remain true to their base style and signature sound throughout these seemingly desultory song catalogs. Suffice to say, The Taxpayers are one of the few bands that can make such haphazard songwriting work. And so the fans of this band are not likely to get bored of their songs any time soon, if at all.
Lyrically, The Taxpayers' songs are not without depth and meaning. While some of the songs are light-hearted and good-humored, most of them are earnest, fiery songs centered on a handful of subjects, including personal, social, political, artistic, and worldly issues.
Starting out like many other punk bands of the crazy times in which we live, The Taxpayers began in 2007 with meager accommodations in rundown buildings, inner city squats, crazy house shows, moving from one homestead to the next, dealing with the cops, more crazy house shows, making rounds of the local venues, recording, booking, touring, meeting new friends and making contacts, broken-down tour vans...and loving every minute of the mad experience. More specifically, The Taxpayers started in the basement of the pad where Rob was residing at the time, a former meth house and pretty dilapidated structure in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, the aptly named Slime House. It was there that The Taxpayers had their first few practices. It was also at the Slime House that the band, then a trio, held the first of their shows...that is, until the eviction notice came and they were forced to find diggs elsewhere. By then they were already venturing out to play different venues around town. From there they moved into a new place in a neighborhood in the northern section of Portland called Kenton. That house was shortly thereafter dubbed The Sea Shanty, and it was where they were to host a number of shows and eventually record their first full-length album "Exhilarating News." In fact, you can still head on over to the Useless State website -- a DIY collective out of Portland -- and download "Exhilarating News" in its dirty, energetic, loud, and altogether brilliant entirety.
The Taxpayers continued playing shows at The Sea Shanty, but were also frequently on the bill at a community/show space called Brainstains, later changed to The Coop. Once that eviction notice came, again due to real estate dealings beyond their control, the band decided it was time to hit the road and do some touring. During those first couple of weeks on the road they shared the stage with the likes of Fixed Gears Are For Jerks and Lesbians, Atomic Butter Babies, and Joe Destroy, among others. And The Taxpayers' eclectic catalog of songs began circulating through the veins of the underground, pumped along by the mighty heart of the punk scene, applauded by the audiences, and largely celebrated by the whole of the punk community for bringing some freshness to a style of music that over the years has grown as stale as a loaf of prison bread.
After that, the band came to a consensus that it was time to record another album. Unlike "Exhilarating News," which was recorded in less than two days, they took their time with the new one, doing everything themselves. "A Rhythm in the Cages" became the album's title. And where "Exhilarating News" showed a small among of the bands potential, "A Rhythm in the Cages" revealed a lot more. In fact, "A Rhythm in the Cages" was an exercise in building bridges from one style of underground music to the other, spanning great distances, working from impossible heights, and doing it all with sly grins on their faces and middle fingers in the air.
Personally, I have listened to "A Rhythm in the Cages" several times. And it only seems to grow on me more with each listen. As for my favorites on the album, that's easy. "Dig Too Deep" is a frantic folk punk song, with background horns and throat-searing vocals. "No Lodging for the Mad," also done in a folk punk style, is decidedly more upbeat than "Dig Too Deep," but with some rather pissed off lyrical exclamations. "Needle's Eye" is a heartfelt acoustic composition, while "Militaristic Kitchen" is a wonderfully catchy song with noisy guitar and a heavily pronounced bassline surrounded by snare hits and measured vocals. "Stealing Apples from the Man" is a straight-up punk effort, as fierce as such songs are likely to get without falling apart. Then there's "Montana," which is a campfire punk number and rollicking sing-along that one eventually finds oneself singing along with as well. Though the songs mentioned here stick out to me among the rest, I am admittedly fond of the whole album. And I can't wait to hear what the next album holds in store, and in what directions they will take the music this time around.
Speaking of The Taxpayers next album, it has been rumored that the follow-up to "A Rhythm in the Cages" will be on the independent punk label Plan-It-X Records. Letting my curiosity get the better of me, I just had to contact Chris at Plan-It-X to find out if the rumors were true. He told me that, yes, Plan-It-X is in fact working with The Taxpayers for an upcoming full-length LP/CD. After that, Chris simply said, "I'm so excited." And that's where he left it.
A lot of people no doubt wonder why The Taxpayers offer their albums for free download on the web. Noah Taxpayer summed it pretty well in a letter to the Rock Sellout blog, in which he wrote: We believe that offering free music is imperative to challenging the ever failing, soul-sucking music industry. I both admire and respect that sentiment, as I share similar beliefs in the independent and DIY ethics of the punk community. But...well, call me old fashion, but I find that there's just something unspeakably wonderful about going to the show and picking up a copy of the band's album from the merch table, to hold those liner notes in your hands, reading the lyrics and notes. I mean, the act of shelling out a few bucks for the album isn't just supporting the band, it's being a part of it all yourself.
The lads and lass of The Taxpayers have just returned home from tour. It remains to be seen yet if they plan on getting some much needed rest and relaxation only to head right back out on the road, or if they are going to start recording those songs for the new album. Either way, we Taxpayer fans are looking forward to it.
Until then... we always have "Exhilarating News" and "A Rhythm in the Cages."