Vertical Scratchers: Slashed Chords, Fractured Poetry

By Ken Tucker  |  NPR – Fresh Air

Vertical Scratchers.
Vertical Scratchers. Joseph Amario, Courtesy of the artist


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The members of Vertical Scratchers don’t have to pretend: They are free spirits, making music that is at once tightly composed, whimsical and anarchic.

The vocals on a Vertical Scratchers song tend to be high-pitched and yearning. John Schmersal creates harmonies from his vocal tracks that have a keening romanticism. His guitar lines are a series of slashed chords — vertical scratching, and thus the band’s name. At the same time, there’s a compressed intensity to the tunes, which uncoil with a snap, again and again.

Schmersal’s lyrics are, frankly, baffling most of the time — word salad stuff that is nevertheless often very suitable for the mood created by the music. For instance, the song “Run Around” contains this quatrain:

No worries wondering what will soon subside (for now)

Cupid replies that lie pacing in halls occupied

And I’ve been counting on numbers for all this time

All they can say is ok

Well, that doesn’t quite add up as sense. But it is effective in conveying the urgency you hear tucked inside this fine little melody.

Daughter of Everything is one of those superb pop albums that isn’t going to propel its creators into stardom. It’s got one foot in the past — it most frequently reminds me of the curt punk rock of Wire‘s great 1977 album Pink Flag. And Vertical Scratchers’ other foot is in the future — a future where its fractured poetry is not head-scratching but heartwarming. Right now, I’ll take both of those reactions as a measure of just how good this music is.

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