ATN Chicago correspondent Gil Kaufman reports: Just because they hail
from Champaign, Illinois, home to the web-browser Mosaic, the Center
for Supercomputing Research and Frasca, where one of the first virtual
reality prototypes was built (with help from Poster Kid Rick
Valentin), don't think Menthol are strictly cerebral rockers. Even if
the chicken-scratch vocals on "Dry Heaves (Of the Well Adorned), the
second song on their self-titled major-label debut, begin with the
high falutin couplet, "Born of the need to find a calibrated sacred
profession/ Born of a need to find a calculated means of
Lead singer and guitarist Balthazar de Ley, Baltie for short, just
can't help it. "I totally realized in hindsight that song titles like,
'Codes and Ciphers,' 'Wild-Eyed Alpha Males,' and 'Reverent, Eyes
Heavenward,' reflect an academic upbringing," says the soft-spoken son
of a French literature professor, as he sips down a Guinness at a
neighborhood bar in his newly-transplanted home, Chicago. Instead of
soul-bearing catharsis, Baltie says he finds himself working out
academic exercises in the music of the band. "It's more like an
exercise in analysis and satire, but I don't have any problem with
that. That's actually one of the most fun things I get to do in this
band. I get to spell out riddles."
One of the biggest riddles is how Menthol (a favorite of Veruca Salt's
Nina Gordon and Louise Post) grew from its previous incarnation as
Mother, whose Gold Record CD on Champaign's Mud Records was a
sometimes successful exercise in wedding the punk/pop sound of
Champaign with a more roots-oriented commercial southern rock sound a
la' Skynyrd, to the more refined, Bowie-esque sound of their new Brad
Wood (Liz Phair, Veruca Salt) produced CD. Songs like "USA Capable"
and "Dry Heaves (Of the Well Adorned)" smash along like caffienated
kindergartners on a post-nap rampage, with Baltie's raw-throated
vocals leading the way, while "Bedheaded, Redeyed, and Bewildered"
glides on sweet-coated vocals and Moog melodies, .38 Special be
damned. This time, instead of force-fitting the songs into a
structure, Baltie says the trio simply played the kind of music they
liked and let the chips fall where they may.
During a recent unlikely opening gig for the resuscitated Adam Ant
(Menthol and the Ant-man share a record label, Capitol), the band, as
usual, lined up three across on the stage, and played a somewhat
typical show, i.e. "extremely loud, but not a pissed off loud,"
according to the lanky lead singer who describes their sound as more
of a "happy loud, if that makes any sense. We're actually one of the
quietist bands in town and people tell us we're insanely loud."
Tugging on a smoke and smoothing out his cords, Baltie breaks into a
shy smile and sheepishly admits that the band sometimes prides
themselves on an approach that emphasizes energy over technical
execution on the stage, in other words, "putting on a show in the old