Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - The Tyranny Of Distance (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

The Tyranny Of Distance (2001)


There are some things in the world of punk rock that you can always expect:

  • Epitaph will always mass produce skatepunk.
  • Fat Wreck will always mass produce SoCal punk.
  • Lookout! will always mass produce pop-punk.
Funny thing is, lately most labels aren't going by their previous moniker. Epitaph's aquirement of artists as diverse as Tricky and Tom Waits [and the rumored signing of The Promise Ring] is dispelling rumors that they're only a skatepunk label. In turn, Fat has signed bands like Sick Of It All and Rise Against, who don't really fit into the NOFX/Lagwagon style. So what does Lookout! do in response? Gives us new releases from bands like Bis and the Alkaline Trio [whle the latter could fit in the label's prior experience, the former most certainly was new ground]. And to keep up the momentum of change, Lookout! puts out, hands down, the best pop album of the year.

Ted Leo is amazing. I should stop there, but for the sake of humoring those of you who haven't picked up the album yet, I'll go on. Ted's whole family is involved in indie music it seems; his brother Danny fronts The Holy Childhood and brother Chris has put in time in the Van Pelt and The Lapse. Ted used to be in a band called Chisel. Some of you may have heard of them; they were a very popular mod-punk hybrid that was around for the majority of the nineties. They disbanded sometime around 1997, and that's when Ted's solo career began.

To be honest with you, the first time I saw and heard Ted Leo I hated him. It was in Bloomington, IL on my 18th birthday when he opened for the Alkaline Trio. At the time I was on crutches with a broken ankle, and hearing this weird guy play just an electric guitar and have a drum machine play generic beats behind him was not on my "things to hear" list. So I wrote him off, as I'm sure many of us have to our now favorite artists.

A year later, my brother emails me from Russia and tells me to buy the new Ted Leo album, as it's one of the best albums of 2001. I am wary. He tells me that he will completely reimburse me if I don't like it. You can't go wrong with a deal like that, right? So I headed out and picked up a copy. With great trepidation I put the CD in. I was then forced to eat a big bite of crow and throw away my receipt, as the music contained on the disc completely knocked me for a loop.

The album's 12 tracks, all with a full band, range from jangly-guitar foot-tappers ["Biomusicology" and "Under The Hedge"] to head on rock ["Timorous Me" and "Parallel Or Together?"], as well as throwing some dub and 70's dancehall punk influences in there ["St. John the Divine" and "The Great Communicator"] and even a Beatles-esque ballad ["The Gold Finch and The Red Oak Tree"]. The flaws in this album are incredibly minimal -- in fact, they add to the overall enjoyability of the music. For example, at the beginning of "Dial Up", you can hear the quiet squeak of the bass drum pedal as it kicks off the song. It's honestly one of my favorite parts of the record, as it demonstrates that Ted and the Pharmacists don't need fancy studio techniques and Pro Tools to make an incredibly enjoyable pop album. The addition of strings on some tracks only add to the all around pleasure factor that this album gives out, whereas with most bands it bogs the song down and makes them look overly sappy. Ted's guitar playing is beyond top notch, as evidenced in tracks like 12-string guitared "Under The Hedge" and the bluesy-yet-upbeat "Timorous Me." While the album does contain a full band [of rotating members, most famous being Brendan of Fugazi and Ted's brother Danny], you can definitely feel that some of the songs had been played by just Ted for some time. For example, "My Vien Ilin" sails some pretty rough lyrical seas with just Ted and a lonesome electric guitar, until a cacophony of sound kicks in at the the two minute mark. It sounds like something Ted had been working on by himself for some time, and when he rehearsed with a band he found that solid ending he was waiting for. The end of the song seriously sounds as crazy and loud as something At The Drive-In would do. Definite thumbs up.

This honestly is the best pop record of 2001, and pretty much has a lock in my top five for the year. Do yourself a favor: branch out as much as all your favorite record labels have been doing, and pick up a copy of this CD. It's the feel-good hit of the year.

Squeaky Fingers
Under The Hedge