Welcome to From Root to Fruit, where I take a deep ass dive into an artist’s discography for the original purpose of covering great artists BEFORE their new album comes out. (I fucked up on this one.) And today I cover Andrew W.K.
Andrew W.K. is such an important figure that it feels odd that I have not been pointed in the direction of a tribute blog already. You’re Not Alone is still fresh in its current release, and I decided to do a tribute to him by writing him a Root to Fruit article. Needless to say, with as much as Andrew W.K. did, it feels cheap to stop there. Dude deserves a tribute post.
Ilya has always referred to me as a Renaissance Man, but in comparison to Andrew W.K., I haven’t done jack shit with my life. He has not only put out the most decorated discography (he tackled albums from punk rock to classical to a fucking REGGAE album with Lee Scratch Perry), but outside of that, he has joined various bands (from a performance with The Locust to joining Boredom’s 77BOADRUM project), had multiple TV shows (Your Friend, Andrew W.K. on MTV and Destroy Build Destroy on Cartoon Network) to even having his own advice column full of sage nuggets. It’s safe to say dude earned his stripes ten time over. Not just for doing thing, but for also having the balls to take off his party cool anytime he feels the need. Do you notice that in Your Friend, Andrew W.K., he wasn’t always the crunkest character? If legend would be correct, Andrew would have found a boy wanting to get an Andrew W.K. back tattoo very awesome! But the whole time Andrew was in “please, don’t do that” mode.
Well, I could write articles upon articles on the guy. I can even dedicate a whole damn week to writing about nothing but Andrew W.K. if I wanted to, but that isn’t what I came for. Before Andrew drops his album, I am going to go through every bit of his discography and talk about it. Trust, if there anything that we have learned, it is that Andrew W.K. is not only a huge supporter and practitioner of the DIY movement (he revealed that for many years, he has produced and composed all of his own music), but a bit of a rock n’ roll chameleon.
Girls Own Juice EP
There are a few telling thing about this EP: the drawing of a skull wearing a Michigan hat, which looks like it could possibly be a tattoo of a musclebound dicknut, and that it was released by Bulb Records, the same label that signed Wolf Eyes, Mr. Quintron and TheUSAisaMonster, bands that are pretty known in the avant-garde/noise community. What this all tells me is that ANdrew W.K. was probably not meant to be a major label entity. You know those bands around 2001 where there were boundary pushing bands that weren’t afraid to be dirty, drunk, high, sexual and proud about its decadence and party attitudes? Well, this one was released squarely in 1999.
This EP, albeit in demo form, spelled out Andrew W.K. He was here to make music to hype yourself up to “”We Want Fun”, the robotic “Girls Own Juice” and the damn near majestic and abruptly ended “A.W.K. (instrumental)” (seriously, if Andrew W.K. had his own cartoon, this would make for really amazing ending credits), Andrew W.K. set himself up to embrace all that he loved and all that he was. He was fun, and he was not messing around with irony.
Party Till You Puke EP
Later on in his career, Andrew W.K. says he is basically a musical vagabond. This album is absolute proof as “Party Til You Puke”, the EP version, is a chiptune stomper. Really, that could describe the whole alhum, as it is a fully electronic affair. Where the I Get Wet version s a stadium-rock Sparta kick in the chest, the EP version lets the drum machines and keyboards do the kicking, while he rages his ass off into oblivion. Very electronic based compared to the version on I Get Wet. But Andrew W.K. manages to still retain the punk rock energy in his voice. There are…three versions. One is the song I described, the second one is more skeletal, bass-drum focused, and extended in comparison remix, the shout-out remix is exaclty that. “Party till you puke” shouted out. Surely, you can choose which one you prefer, but after that Andrew W.K. continues the party in similar key with “Dance Party”. It almost feels as if “Party Til You Puke” slowly disintegrates with each version.
As the EP moves on, AWK turns the music from dance party theme into a chiptune hardcore workout with “I Want to Kill” and the dissonant rager “Old Man”. It’s safe to say any electronic elements will be few and far in between, but if this EP teaches you anything, it’s that Andrew cannot be placed into a box.
That being said…
I Get Wet
So, before I get into the album, I want a chance to set the scene. It’s 2001. Rather, 2001 was almost over. People were going to get their coffee, The Strokes were suddenly the biggest thing alive after taking their talents towards Great Britain and the Bush Administration just took office. Then, one day, something happened. Something so unforgivable that we have not been able to recover from it years after it happened: New York became…”cool”. As in hipsters-killed-Brooklyn cool. Oh, and the Twin Towers were knocked down as well on a crisp yet depressing September morning leading to America being its most openly prejudiced towards Muslims or really, anyone with brown skin.
After what had happened, it became cool to be from New York. Bands from Interpol to The Strokes to Yeah Yeah Yeahs were critically acclaimed bands from New York. Then, Andrew W.K. emerged. With I Get Wet, Andrew W.K. committed one of the biggest crimes in rock music: he wasn’t cool. His music wasn’t cool. Someone would lovingly go on to describe Andrew on his own show (which will come around the time The Wolf is released) as a “no-talent ass clown”. I Get Wet was a non-ironic commitment to being yourself and doing whatever the hell you want to do. Him saying “We will never listen to your rules/We will never do what others do” may as well be a spit in the direction of pretentious people who vilified him at every turn.
When he isn’t singing about the rebellion of living life, no matter the situation (“Party Hard”), he is singing about the ups and downs of relationships (“Girls Own Love”), the hitman mindset (“Ready to Die”, my 2nd personal favorite track), continuing despite outside criticism (the title track) and, er, masturbation (“It’s Time to Party”). And every track is being done with zero irony, maximum power and the energy that makes you want to instinctively kick someone in the head with the force of an anvil from the sky. It’s too bad the moment people heard this, they thought he was just some beer-choking buffoon that emerged from someone’s fraternity after hanging some poor nerd on a chandelier somewhere.
And so comes the album after the last one. The most significant difference between I Get Wet and The Wolf is that there is a little less punk rock within his musical formula this time around. It is less vibe of kids looking to fuck you up and throw a rager at your house and more classic rock anthems down to the power ballads (the very powerful “Never Let Down”), the backstory of one’s own rebellion (“Tear It Up”), a straight love song filled with choirs and power chords (“Really In Love”) and the hair metal chanting of the short “Make Sex”. But you can honestly say two things 1) that this album is a little stronger in the lyrical area and 2) Andrew once again manages to take on music without irony or camp. Everything here just feels like honest rock n’ roll for those looking to rush the world with honesty int heir soul. Perhaps, this was the thing that many other rock artists could have used, seeing as how what was dominating were soul-free indie rock, miserable rock music, emo and others. The Wolf aims to rock with the message to just do it and shine while you are.
Close Calls With Brick Walls
You know one of those moments where an artist takes what sounds like a hard left turn? That just happens to be Close Calls With Brick Walls.
There are moments where you make music that has certain dynamics for that album. You get so used to it that when you hear something new, it feels like a hard whiplash towards the left. Close Calls is truly filled with that. The album finds Andrew W.K. abandoning anthemic screams and shouts, and embracing a few experimental ideas from dark, gothic ambient (“Close Calls with Bal Harbour”) to the short piano etude “Dr. Dumont” to the unfinished “Golden Eyed Dog”. But this isn’t to say that just because he isn’t pushing party advice that he has abandoned the sounds of partying completely. Just look at the old school boogie of “Las Vegas, Nevada” and the straight asskicker “I Want to See You Go Wild”, which sounds like it would have been a formidable cartoon theme song, if it was ever possible. Word was that this album was only released in Japan, where Andrew has become a huge star, and because of this, Andrew took another left turn that is incredibly intriguing…
The Japan Covers
Sometimes, having an album meant to be released all over America be released in Japan isn’t a completely bad thing. At worst, America would go so far as to call you a has-been so quick, the letter H is a symbol for a punch in the gut on its own, at beat, Japan looks at you like a gatdamn celebrity. The latter happened and Andrew W.K. thanks all of Japan with an album filled with popular J-Pop songs sung in English. As far as the rock goes, the music could have worked well as a transition album between The Wolf and Close Calls, but alas… All one can say about this is to enjoy the rock, because after this, he takes ANOTHER musical detour.
…a new age piano album! Though, to call it new age would feel farfetched compared to just labeling it classical. It is completely improvisational, but still stays within the classical tag.
For those who knew that Andrew W.K. was playing piano since he was a little kid (four years old, specifically) and those who have surfed through his discography so far, to hear him taking on something piano oriented wouldn’t be as much of a surprise. In fact, it would be a welcome change, seeing as how he is a really talented pianist! (You WERE listening to his discography, right? He does all the instruments.) Add the concept of making music for riding around IN a Cadillac, and you have a task to listen to this like it was a cinematic ride in the night. I say cinematic because Andrew does set the scene with ambient noises of bird chirping and him turning the engine.
From there, it just gets harder and harder to deny his prowess at playing different styles of classical. Emotions, tones, and time signatures are often touched upon in the same song. Where “Begin the Engine” gives you a visual of him riding in a Cadillac at night (the music feels very nocturnal, if you will) and “Seeing the Car” will uplift you in the way it ends in a very jubilant manner. “Night Driver” goes from sophisticated swinging to a loose bounce in its step. I say loose because it changes from bouncing to almost dance four-on-the-floor rhythm to a slight braindance rhythm to dog track. With every song, it gets harder to deny his prowess on the keys. Plus, what new age album has a nice little drum solo at the end of one of its songs?
For those who are more interested in the rock side of him, all I have to say to you is hang on. It is in the album somewhere. But in the meantime, this album will impress anyone who make the grave mistake of thinking he was always just going to be headbanging party animal Andrew W.K.
Mother of Mankind
Really, the only thing you can say about Mother of Mankind is that it is…not an extension of Close Calls with Brick Walls, but an extension of Andrew’s wildly creative period that may turn off those who are used to his rock n’ rolls antics or fascinate anyone who likes an artists who zigzags creatively every now and then. Mother of Mankind is probably the better album as Andrew W.K. mostly indulges his glam rock fantasies, even as he is advertising his nightclub (the reggae flavored “We Got a Groove”) and asking a girl out (“Let’s Go On a Date”). And even managing to delve into apocayptic spacemusic etudes as well (“Who Knows?”, and the poignant exorcism of a deep, deep depression “Kill Yourself”). Buying Close Calls with Brick Walls is worth it, if not for the act of discovering a mixed bag of Andrew W.K.’s most expressive and therapeutic works that is not really as off-putting.
And it is back to Japan again, but this time, Andrew W.K. shows his love for the Gundam series by covering the songs throughout the series in English. Now, I am far from an anime buff. I have not seen Gundam or any of these series, so the best i can say is that he definitely did the songs justic in his own way. It for sure, makes me want to check it out sometime. What else is there to really say? He is using his rock n’ roll to pledge allegiance to anime and to celebrate Japan.
Party All Goddamn Night
“I don’t give a damn no more, so I got to party!” says Andrew W.K. during the title track, and it feels like a really sound mantra to go about this EP on. After dealing with plenty of bullshit surrounding his image and his own he approached Party All Goddamn Night with the same ingenuity as he did on Girls Own Juice and parts of Close Calls With Brick Walls. Drum machine programming and equally electronic and authentic guitar plucks. Not to mention that “Everybody’s Raging” is a song that you will notice eventually became “Ever Again”. It is safe to say thanks to the internet and his list of endeavors, including a Cartoon Network TV show and his own nightclub, this spelled Andrew W.K. coming back to be himself. Hell, “I Sold My Soul” feels almost like a brave confession and an apology all at once, which is a good way of preparing us for You’re Not Alone. All he had to do to be Andrew W.K. again was get completely free (musically, mentally, and spiritually) and start all over again.
The results of this will prove to be VERY fruitful to all involved. If you do not believe me, check my review. 😉
Your 76th favorite black Aspergian musical polymath (Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, blogger, producer, poet) from Boston.