The single best record buying experience I’ve ever had ever ever was the day Lenny Lashley’s first Gang of One 7″ came in the mail. I didn’t know Lenny beyond the Piss Poor Boys record (the DTR cover, etc.) and I didn’t know anything about this record beyond the fact that it existed–Snodgrass mentioned it in an interview. The record was #HF001, the first and, so far, only release by a record store in Asbury Park called Hold Fast. They sent me the Record Store Day release-party edition of the 7″– a picture disc and a flyer autographed by the Gang of One, which I was surprised to learn wasn’t just Lenny. Reading the autographs, my jaw dropped lower and lower: Joe “the Kid” Sirois from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Streetdogs! Pete “The Pete” Steinkopf and Bryan “Papillon” Kienlen from THE BOUNCING SOULS, the band that changed the course of my life at nine years old. I never expected to see those names in my mailbox. I never expected the songs to be so great. And that’s what this band feels like to me now–a surprise family reunion. You never know when this band will show up, but when they do it’s with such warmth, sincerity, and lack of bullshit that it feels like exactly the hug you need so badly. That was in 2011; now the Gang of One full-length is finally finally out! Family sometimes disappoints (not blaming) but the Gang of One doesn’t. This is Essential Listening.
Illuminator picks up where the 7″ left off with a holy, sanctimony-devoid, bar-rock-street-punk-country-soul sound that nobody else does. The Gang of One offers no airs; this is not a mysterious band; I don’t think they expect strangers to listen to their records. However true that is, the record certainly comes out uncanny. Think about what a music career has given Lenny Lashley–from his Boston punk band Darkbuster, who were hometown battle-of-the-bands champs in their time but don’t get talked about at all anymore, to the quiet original release of the Piss Poor Boys record, the botched Suburban Home reissue, a broken hand, a nervous breakdown–it’s made him dear in many hearts, and I don’t mean to speak for him, but I’m sure it has been hard as fuck and not reliably profitable.
And then think about what this guy still gives to music–this album, this lonely and brilliant thing, the hard-won concord he’s able to anthemize, the desolation he balladates–he gives it his therapy, he trusts his zen assets, his songs, to a world/audience/void he knows isn’t going to fix much for him, but it’s still stabilizing to try–still a flexing of trust like what happens after finally seeing your parents as mortal, mistaken people, or watching a loved one move out, or standing by while a career demystifies without reward–it all comes back to you and things you can’t keep from admitting to yourself and finding a strength you can build with after that deconstruction. That’s what this band is about to me. Recalibrating your compassion and your self-worth in the face of total shit. Lenny Lashley is great at writing songs that deal and move on. Every single song on this album is important to that end. And he ends the album, either stubbornly or heroically, with the lines, “I could never reach out and go that way anymore / I don’t need re-covering / I’m fine the way I am.” Deal, sing along, and go.
Stream Illuminator at New Noise Magazine. Buy the physical from Pirate’s Press Records or Panic State Records. Buy the digital from iTunes, but Panic State also sells a digital version for cheaper, so buy it from them.