From high energy murder ballad to unrequited love song to topical political commentary “Uncle Sam” offers a broad base of possible interpretations.
First off I’m not the biggest fan of 90’s rock. Some great bands I admired including Soul Asylum, The Goo Goo Dolls and even The Replacements signed with major labels and put out especially insipid albums during that decade. The visceral nature of punk rock was watered down into bands with numbers in their names like Blink 182 or Sum 41 and white frat boy rap-rock like Limp Bizkit headlined the culturally embarrassing Woodstock 1999 debacle. I’m not saying there wasn’t some great music released. Blur, NIN, Turbonegro, The Hellacopters, and Nirvana all come instantly to mind but overall I found it a particularly disappointing ten years for the rock genre.
Naturally when a band sends me a bio that expresses their love for 90’s rock I have my trepidations. Punchbowl Astronauts immediately alleviated my fears with their inaugural release “Uncle Sam”. This song has more in common with the bands that predate 1990’s mediocrity. It starts with an ominously distorted guitar reminiscent of the iconic Greg Sage of The Wipers fame and there are even hints of Hüsker Dü’s tender side in the opening melody (Granted there’s a good chance these two bands could predate the births of Punchbowl Astronauts’ members).
Aaron Montiel and Chris Sacco cut their teeth as a cover band early in their careers and got solid a musical education in the process. Nothing is wasted in this song. Following the tightly wound verse the pre-chorus opens up like parting clouds exposing the vast potential in Aaron Montiel’s voice. This juxtaposition exemplifies the craft of song writing. “Uncle Sam” is carefully arranged complete with lush background vocal harmonies that carry the simple guitar hook through a beautifully orchestrated break down. With the help of Grammy award winning Fran Cathcart at New York’s East Side Sound this duo has constructed a song that cuts through the sea of mediocrity that inundates my inbox.
In our email exchanges, Chris was careful to note that they would never tell listeners how to interpret the meaning of the lyrics. The content is filled with contrasting images and is left ambiguous enough to initiate a multitude of narrative arcs. From high energy murder ballad to unrequited love song to political commentary “Uncle Sam” offers a broad base of possible interpretations. I’m leaning towards a combination of the three—perhaps a disgraced broken hearted politician awaiting execution at the gallows of a lost American dream. I urge you to listen and draw your own conclusions.