Introducing Menthol

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

expression..."

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

school sense."