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Tenement Go Long

Jul. 14, 2015
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Photo credit: Matt Stranger

Tenement didn’t volunteer for the task of making a double album so much as they inherited it. In 2012, the Appleton pop-punk band had garnered interest from a few labels before opting to sign with New Jersey’s Don Giovanni Records. It seemed like a comfortable fit; Don Giovanni was already home to some of the band’s friends and tour mates, including Screaming Females and Waxahatchee. But the label had an unusual request: They wanted a double LP. Why, exactly, even singer/guitarist Amos Pitsch can’t say. After all, Tenement’s previous record The Blind Wink clocked a lean 27 minutes and nothing about the band’s blissfully concise tunes cried out for the epic treatment.

“At first I was a little hesitant to do it, because it seemed overambitious,” Pitsch says. “But I warmed up to the idea eventually and figured, ‘Screw it; how many times do you get the opportunity to do something like this?’ I’m usually writing and recording all the time anyway.”

Written and recorded in spurts over three years, Predatory Headlights is a hefty slab of an album: 28 songs running nearly 80 minutes, and it covers a lot of territory in its time. At its core, it’s a great American rock album, a testament to Pitsch’s almost Alex Chilton-esque ear for hooks and harmony, but it’s also fascinated by sounds that lay outside of rock’s usual boundaries. In its scope, it can’t help but recall The Clash’s magnum opuses London Calling and Sandinista!, records that shared a similar fascination with just how far punk could be stretched. There are also echoes of Fugazi’s studio-tinkered late-period works in the album’s more experimental stretches, which swap out Tenement’s usual driving guitars for mistuned pianos, piped-in strings and acoustic takes that play like unearthed field recordings. 

“I feel like a lot of rock bands just listen to rock bands, but we listen to everything,” Pitsch says. “Like, I probably listen to more classical and avant-garde jazz than I do rock music anyway, so it was just natural that we wrote music that would reflect those interests.”

Reviews of Predatory Headlights have been uniformly appreciative, but most have struck a common, entirely expected refrain: It could use a good trim. That’s an understandable response—the album is a lot to take in, but Pitsch insists it wasn’t meant to be heard in one sitting.

“I feel like some of the reviews have tried to treat the record like it’s a 10-song LP, which is impossible to do,” Pitsch says. “You can’t treat it like that. It was designed to be listened to in four parts. I feel like it’s difficult for people who only hear it on Spotify. Of course you can listen to it however you want, but the best way to hear it is with the record in hand, looking at the artwork. On Spotify you’re going to listen to it as a giant batch of 25 songs, and you’re going to get sick of it halfway through. It’s just not the same.”

Predatory Headlights was released just last month, and in the time since Pitsch has begun to realize why most bands don’t pour three years into massive, double-disc labor of loves, especially at a time when the press cycle around a new album is shorter than ever. “It was kind of shocking when we put out this record how quickly the interest came and went,” Pitsch says. “It’s like we put out the record and there was some talk about it, then the next day you didn’t hear anything about it. We were surprised by that. I mean, the last time we put out a record was 2012.

“It’s a difficult thing in 2015, to try to get people to accept an album like this and give it the space it needs, because people’s attention spans are so fleeting and everything is so fast paced right now,” Pitsch says. “Of course, I didn’t realize any of this until the record came out.”

Tenement play the Riverwest Public House on Sunday, July 19 at 8 p.m. with Tweens, Platinum Boys and Mercy Brown. They’ll also play Linneman’s Riverwest Inn at 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 23 with Radioactivity and Sugar Stems.

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