Let the War Against Music Begin / Because We Hate You

By Michial Farmer
Source: The Phantom Tolbooth
For the uninitiated, The Young Fresh Fellows and the Minus 5 are two sides of the same coin: namely, Scott McCaughey (pronounced "McCoy"), multi-instrumentalist and touring guitarist for R.E.M. While the Fellows have maintained a comparably stable line-up for the past twenty-odd years, the members of the Minus 5 change with just about every record, the only constant being McCaughey and Peter Buck. Members of groups like The Presidents of the United States of America and The Model Rockets have also performed with them.

So why all this background information? Simple. Malt Records, in conjunction with Mammoth Records, has released a double CD featuring both bands’ latest albums: The Young Fresh Fellows’ Because We Hate You and The Minus 5’s Let the War Against Music Begin. The joke is that this is the "battle of the century" and that we are given a scorecard and the task of deciding which band comes out on top. I’ll tell you who the winner is a little later, but first, a little more about each album’s sound.

Let the War Against Music Begin is a declarative 60s throwback. "Great News Around You" opens the record with Sgt. Pepper-esque flair ­ John Lennon piano, swirling harmonies, psychedelic guitar lines, and even a "Mr. Kite"-inspired circus organ. Other songs bring to mind The Byrds and the Dave Clark Five, although McCaughey’s lyrics are characteristically drenched in the kind of dark quirkiness that will appeal to fans of Weezer, Barenaked Ladies and They Might Be Giants. Let the War… is also a concept album; perhaps the most upbeat and sunshiny concept album about death and alcoholism ever conceived.

Because We Hate You, on the other hand, is much less coordinated. The Young Fresh Fellows are a rock and roll band and do not share the same art rock pretensions as their Minus 5 counterparts. The Fellows come out of the gate rocking, and don’t really slow down until the final track (which is actually quite reminiscent of many of the songs on Let the War…), "The Ballad of Only You and the Can Prevent Forest Fires." Unfortunately, the Fellows are much less interesting than the Minus 5, and Because We Hate You lags severely in the middle.

With this in mind, I declare the winner to be The Minus 5. They may not be the band of the Century, as the liner notes imply, but Let the Music Begin is a foot in the door.

-Michial Farmer (2/26/2001)