It was just about a month ago that I became aware of the self-described “pop music cult” Hussalonia, and since then I’ve listened to Hussalonia songs about 350 times. Even more surprising, I’m showing no signs of getting sick of them.
Partly this is because Hussalonia is really good*, partly it’s because they (mostly just he — Jesse Mank basically is Hussalonia, although he has some collaborators on some tracks) is strikingly diverse, encompassing minimalist folk, musique concrète, power pop, heavy metal — too many genres to list. Like the work of many of my favorite songwriters, Mank’s songs are frequently funny and serious simultaneously; they’re seldom straightforwardly jokey. (His track-by-track re-invention of Billy Joel’s 1980 new-wave cash-in album Glass Houses is no joke; it’s a revelation.**)
“For Those About to Rock, We Ignore You,” is one of those tunes that makes me smile and wince at the same time and it melds a couple of Mank’s aesthetic directions. It’s about how unpleasant it can sometimes be to make it through a local band’s set to hear the band you came to see (or are in). This is certainly familiar territory for me.*** Mank approaches it with delicate picked acoustic guitar and a hushed, appropriately world-weary vocal. But what lifts it into the realm of the extraordinary are the underlying layers of guitar feedback — noisy, but melodically smart, and at least partly belying the sentiment of the lyric. (Another of Mank’s projects, Satan Among the Sofa Cushions, is a heavy metal EP that is too successful as metal to be dismissed as parody, even if Mank’s tongue is clearly in his cheek.)
Jesse Mank is manifestly uninterested in participating in the industry part of the music industry; his recent catalogue is only distributed digitally, and he gives the vast bulk of it away free on the entertaining and informative Hussalonia website.
*Triple-threat good: he’s an outstanding songwriter, a gifted multi-instrumentalist, and displays much more solid recording chops than I expect from indie home-recordists.
**Glass Houses was one of the first three LPs I ever bought, but while I still like Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits 74-78 and even some of Foreigner’s self-titled album, Glass Houses was the first record I disowned. I used an exacto to cut up the cover so it said “Mr. Shit” instead of “Billy Joel.” I hadn’t thought of that in years, and certainly never regretted it until Mank’s amazing renditions made me want to A-B against the original.
***For a couple years I’ve been trying to finish writing a song that starts “There’s not enough booze in this bar/To get me through another set by your band/And there’s not enough beer in my glass/To get me through one more song/But I’m too cheap to waste half a drink/So I guess I’ll buy another round.” Mank’s lyric is much better than mine; also, he finished his.