Songs We Love: The Max Levine Ensemble, ‘My Valerian’

By Lars Gotrich  |  NPR


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If there’s one thread running through the 15 years of The Max Levine Ensemble, it’s that no one knows who the hell they are. (Then again, we’re all just bags of meat figuring things out one day at a time, some better than others.) Backlash, Baby is the Washington, D.C. pop-punk band’s first album in eight years, and with it comes a grown-up worldview that’s more assured — but is, most assuredly, as confused as ever.

On a record full of fast-paced, catchy shout-alongs, “My Valerian” is the chunky, mid-tempo rock anthem with the perverse melodic sweetness of Pixies and the clean-cut backbone of The Rentals. While guitarist David Combs has always been an earnest lyricist, his long-running (and recently retired) solo vehicle Spoonboy has taught him to convey more with less, clipping the first verse with the terse, “I woke up in transit, panicked, and screaming.” Combs plays with words, twirling herbal sedatives (“Kava kava, chamomeleon / Boswellia geranium”) around in his mouth as a sort-of love song to escaping anxiety and chasing bliss, “My valerian.”

In the band-directed video, its members are captured by evil doctors and Combs’ brain is replaced by a doomsday device. Ben Levin, writer for Steven Universe and creator of the web series, Doris & Mary Anne Are Breaking Out Of Prison, provides some trippy animation when things get weird. It’s the second of a three-part series, the prequel to the thrilling video for “Sun’s Early Rays,” which not only features Priests‘ Katie Alice-Greer and Ilsa‘s Sharad Satsangi as your next Bond and Bond Villain, but also a whole crew of D.C. friends and musicians plotting The Max Levine Ensemble’s demise.

Backlash, Baby comes out Nov. 20 on Lame-O and Rumbletowne.

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