Jerusalem and the Starbaskets
De Stijl

Yes, it’s true. Summer, at least from the perspective of your average Midwesterner, is gone. And for all intents and purposes, DOST, the first proper full-length from Jerusalem and the Starbaskets (which has been a long time coming), was released to accompany that season of road trips, healthy sweats and waning dusks, but it’s lasted well into autumn in this homestead. It’s a feeling all the more tangible permeating through cracked windows letting in the crisp air of crumbling foliage, providing further insulation to the extra layer of cloth needed to survive such times. The Columbia, Missouri duo of Jeremy Breeze and Kim Sherman were made for the fall. I wanted to keep it like a secret, to not reveal DOST to my inner circle until I had fully appreciated the record for what it was at its core and not its surface. Casuals (or should we call them the deaf?) might pass this off as yet another formerly-of-Memphis crooner finding his way in center-America (a cultural void?) and dressing up roots and blues with an unpolished garage rock mined from the last 20 years of gentlemen passing along the same troubadour vibe. Unless you are fiddling in the plains of our united, then “no depression” is a vulture’s dinner; those White Stripes have roosted in a safe house of classic rock, and those who still truck on in unnamed dives in third-tier cities—well, you don’t know them anyways. Casuals don’t know what they’re getting into with Jerusalem and the Starbaskets, as all that nonsense is just a front. All of that huckster posturing and Dylan references are a lazy man’s ruse, and they know it. The one-two hootenanny of “Pretty Patty” and the rousing barroom brevity of “First Cigarette in the Rain” are not earnest mocking, but created in an authentic environment and from the mouth of a strident student. Freeze and Sherman know where they grow. Before the release of DOST, they’d been touring endlessly in this configuration, scraping rough-hewn mojo off those dive-bar floors and saving it up for the day you first see them live or first listen to one of their recordings. For Jersusalem and the Starbaksets, the buzz has been in reverse. DOST is as organic an album as one can find on the streets today. It sounds slow-cooked, slightly over-baked, and strange by way of isolation; calling it anything other than head music would be backing the duo into a corner they’d likely get out of. Kicking around in the same place—be it the road or Columbia or Memphis—can have both negative and positive connotations. Either you adapt to the local color, learn it, and play it to a fault, or you adapt, learn it, and carry if off into an ether of your own creation. DOST sticks to the latter. As Freeze sings on “Fuck a Parade” with a disaffected melancholy, “I’m not sure of a banner that would read clear.” It’s all a bit blurry.

The first clue in determining that the Starbaskets are off the grid and on the fringe comes before even putting the record on. That De Stijl has attached their name should tell you something. The Minneapolis-based label is notorious for a roster that includes vintage improv-psych from Finland, drug-den scorched hip-hop from Hype Williams, Agit-fav Circuit Des Yeux, and those impenetrable Charlie Nothing records. DOST is likely the straightest record released by De Stijl in their brief, but wondrous, history. There are a number of tunes here, like the instantly catchy opener “Chocolate Covered Every Berry” and the Replacements proto-grunge of “Brighter the Light,” which would make your cooler uncle’s playlist. Full of twang and gravel-road melodies, they are also buoyed with shambolic bouts of natural reverb and dirtied with searing fuzz-guitar blasts. The lot of it smells like those indefinable rag-tags from the ’90s—bands like the Grifters, Columbus’ Moviola, and in terms of sonic bummers, even Eric’s Trip. There’s a sullied jangle that is hard to resist here, but that’s what pushes them over the edge. Things really get gnarly towards the end of DOST, where their inner Velvets starts to emerge. “Walking Across Your Grave,” “Sister Sorceress” and “Similar Cog” comprise a trilogy of booming psych and repetitive riffs that you wished went on a “Sister Ray” sort of infinite ramble. The album’s finale stands as testament to their synergy as a live duo, something one must encounter to truly “get” the Starbaskets. Then again, there’s another clue that sits hidden in the artwork. Little slogans asking the listener to “love now” or for “no thinking, all feeling,” affirming they’re simply two bohemians at heart—an olde-styled, heart-on-sleeve take on romantic nihilism.

Jerusalem and the Starbaskets are currently on a tour in support of DOST, which includes a stop in Agit hometown Columbus on Sunday, October 16.
Kevin J. Elliott