Pink Water


    Don’t be fooled by Clyde Federal’s abrupt transformation into Violins. The name change might have misled many connoisseurs of the lively Chicago scene to think the members had disbanded. But Violins is the same band under a different moniker, and now frontman Michael Lyons has assumed a more defined role as the band’s focal point. Lyons seems to have departed a grungier past for a much poppier sound, but a no-frills backbone is present throughout Pink Water, and the music remains well removed from the ordinary.


    Lyons approaches an ambitious subject in “Stare Down the Walls,” as he describes “beer cans rolling down the ceiling of the Rabbit/ clatter round the spot where a hobby turns to habit.” A slow drum beat and sparse chords join Lyons’s lonely voice. His narrative traverses curious subjects, ranging from “my only son looking no more confused than usual” to “the bank of England and the banks of the muddy/ Land of Lincoln” to “the house of Usher and the house of Ashanti/ Renaud, Ranz, Bulington, Cannon, Morse and Laconte/ understand me.” Where these references fit into Lyons’s past is a mystery, but the song does take Pink Water into an intimate sphere of imagery after an almost too-catchy sequence of songs (“Deify, Defy, Defile,” “Trans”) that begin the album.


    “Bathwater” starts as a reinterpretation of a Simon & Garfunkel croon: “I am not a poor boy/ And my story is seldom interesting/ I settled in the city/ Where I found the light most flattering.” This song seems in tune with Lyons himself; all accounts of the band’s name change point to Lyons’s interest in having a more flattering role. Other songs suggest the band’s mainstream appeal with short-breathed verses and snazzy hooks.


    The poppy character holds enough punch to keep the album from becoming boring at any point, but there is certainly a distinct quality to this album. As evidenced in the allusions in “Stare Down the Walls,” there is an insolence in many tracks on Pink Water — a title that suggests something a little more cynical than sing-alongs and a vocalist who likes the limelight. “The Launderer” begins with an unflattering pair of rhymes: “We only fought for freedoms that were never far out of reach/ we couldn’t tell the difference between property and speech/ we sided with owners when provided with bleach/ we cleaned the sheets — pink water was released.” There are other examples of Violins directing insults at youth culture. “Sophie and Pierre” begins with a jab at a vaguely defined college experience: “I’m a pleasant studies major/ concentrating in abuse of power/ but outside the academy/ my subjects get so made at me.”


    From wherever this vengeance emerges, Lyons seems to gloss over any real discontent with a charming demeanor. The title of closer “Client Funeral” is an appropriate misspelling of the band’s former name. After Lyons coos about a “suicidal girl” in a mood that recalls Lou Reed‘s austere meditations, he then turns to perhaps the album’s most mysterious couplet: “The underground will find another Manson/ the poets will find another Pound.” After a brief silence, “Client Funeral” marks a farewell to the band name of yore with a lengthy instrumental session.


    That instrumental conveys a last gasp of Clyde Federal the band. In all likelihood, the next note we hear from Violins will be accompanied by an ever-charming Lyons, but who knows in what mood he’ll be in when he writes the lyrics?


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