Visqueen — Message To Garcia
She just spent Christmas in Vientiane, Laos, teaching English and helping a village raise many children. She sings a lot with fellow blazing-heart redhead Neko Case, including on noteworthy national television like on David Letterman's show. She spent the past several years nursing her New Jersey dad, taking him into her Seattle home and caring for him, till he recently passed away. There's probably a lot else that was done by and happened to Rachel Flotard, Visqueen's vocalist-singer-songwriter in the past twelve months, but ten years from now most of us will remember this as the year of the band's album Message To Garcia.
The formed-in-2001 group's name is well known now as the material created to protect levees from erosion and our country from biochemical terrorist attack, and Message To Garcia is also the title of Elbert Hubbard's motivational tome used to inspire the military and other people fighting their way out of foxholes. It's been that kind of time for Flotard, with so much hard work and loss since Visqueen's two earlier, very fondly remembered albums, King Me (2003) and Sunset On Dateland (2004). (If Three Imaginary Girls had a Record Guide, it's certainly possible these would be perfectly-scored aesthetic-defining works.)
Listening to Message To Garcia though is a seductive and emotionally salubrious experience, for therein lies its light and healing. It's the kind of album people probably wanted Bruce Springsteen to make after Born To Run, not Darkness On The Edge Of Town, eleven feedback-kissed pitches of empowerment and flirtation closer to a whole set-list of "Candy's Room" instead of the title track of that downer. It is 70s-loving, 80s-reminiscing, 90s-driven, and timelessly contemporary in all the classically Seattle rock fan ways. It vividly shows Flotard's adoration for everything from a Ballard house party blasting The Ramones at dawn after an all night bar hang-out where every Cheap Trick and Replacements album had already been played on the jukebox.
As for the songs themselves, opening track "Hand Me Down" entrances from the start as one of the best singles of the year, while thoughtful stormers and stormy thought pieces like "Beautiful Amnesia" and "Janitor's Waltz" were/are made to be fiercely rotated on KJET, KCMU, and now KEXP in their own pockets of time. Players from Jason Parker on the trumpet and flugelhorn, Ty Bailie on the Wurlitzer (on should-be-a-hit "So Long"), core players like guitarist Tom Cummings and drummer Ben Hooker, as well as an occasional choir (including John Roderick on "Fight For Love") make this a mighty team achievement.
There is pain and depth here, but in the words of Lou Reed, "sometimes you got to stand up unless you're going to fall, and then you're going to die." That song, "Coney Island Baby," was the favorite of my writing mentor, Portland science fiction author John Shirley, who once wrote a novel called City Come A Walkin' about how some people were actually anthropomorphic versions of the cities they lived in. His version of Portland was a woman named Cat, a Patti Smith on the boardwalk type with a black eye and a journal of free verse. If I were to choose the musical mayor of Seattle, it would be the physically tough but brainy Flotard, who preaches communal devotion, worker's rights like her labor union dad, bedrooms full of the best vintage vinyl, and isn't beyond winking at the stud across the tavern for a little drunken cuddle. Message To Garcia isn't a manifesto on how to live, but it sure sounds like one.