The most arresting moment on Filmstrip's new album Moments of Matter is also its quietest. Amid the Cleveland trio's collection of punchy, chunky rock, it's the tender resignation of "P.O.C." that stops the listener in their tracks. Accompanied by nothing more than an acoustic guitar, frontman Dave Taha waxes philosophical on a Saturday night: "We left the party when they ran out of beer, which got me to thinking, what are we doing here?" he sings. "You don't want to understand my plight, so crack another can and let's get on with the night."
It's the figurative moment when Saturday night becomes inextricably linked with Sunday morning. The song is an acronym for "Pride of Cleveland," and it has the same kind of benumbed, Midwestern alcoholism that lies at the center of the Replacements' great tune "Here Comes a Regular." On that track, Paul Westerberg wonders, "Am I the only one who feels the shame?"
However in a Rust Belt city like Cleveland, decay and dissolution are just one of those things that showcase the town's odd mix of resilience and despair. Or as Taha sings, "This would all be fine if I'd just do what I'm told, for the people of Cleveland it never gets old."
It's a song he wrote years ago and the band has never been able to properly put it on tape until now. When Taha and his Filmstrip bandmates went to Asheville, N.C.'s Echo Mountain Studios to record the new 15-track disc, his brother and bassist Matt Taha had an idea.
"Dave's most comfortable moment is him on his acoustic guitar," Matt says. "That's how he personally first moved me by his music. So I said, 'Can you play a couple of these acoustic? I really want to see how it sounds through this awesome equipment that we were working with.' It was like, 'Alright that sounds amazing. Let's just go with that.'"
The result is a heart-tugging ode to the specter of learned helplessness and opportunities forsaken. "We usually play that song live super-jammed out, with a big swooping Dinosaur Jr.-style riff," Dave says. "That song to me is just my way of saying thank you Cleveland for making me who I am — resilient, austere, and ready to live on the road because I practically live on the road anyway in a shitty apartment in Cleveland."
The rest of the album's a mix of tuneful, upbeat rock of the type and breadth you'd find on college radio. There's jangle-pop nostalgia ("Partners in Crime"), slashing Sebadoh-esque alt-rock ("Up on the Promenade"), ambling folk-blues ("Wild Abandon"), and creamy, sardonic post-rock ("Opportunism"). Another highlight beyond "P.O.C." is the droning slow-burn ballad dedicated to our loud, unforgiving culture, "Stuck on Explode."
"On this record we wanted to almost cultivate an album that was kind of a mix of everything we have done and can do," says drummer Nick Riley. "Some of these songs Dave wrote over 10 years ago. Some of them are brand new that we haven't even played since we recorded them."
They went into the studio with 35 songs and let the chips fly. "Bands these days get sucked into this one-dimensional vacuum and just start putting out the same exact record," Matt Taha says. "I feel this is an opportunity for us to show what's on our minds."
Riley has been playing with Taha since their eighth grade summer, and they played together in various combos for more than a dozen years before starting Filmstrip four years ago. Their 2010 debut Everything Can Change is much more distortion-laden than their forthcoming album, and there's no mistaking the fact that the band owes a deep allegiance to late-'80s/early-'90s underground acts like Hüsker Dü, Superchunk, and Jawbox.
Though they've finished recording and have posted rough mixes on their Bandcamp page, they're still shopping the final mix. If nothing exciting presents itself, they'll self-release the album later this fall.
The album's completion has been accompanied by a renewed sense of purpose, coupled with a decision to book longer tours than anything they've ever attempted before. Now in their 30s, they've decided to go all in. "They say everything happens for a reason," Matt Taha says. "Now we're comfortable enough to go out on the road for a long period of time and go for our dreams."
His brother Dave adds, "We have a chemistry that really can't be broken. We have a really strong bond just from having been in and out of bands since we were teens. The timing felt perfect, especially the opportunity to go down to Echo Mountain and record. It all started falling into place for us, and it was like, alright, things are lining up, why not go for it?"
The guys in Filmstrip are hoping to follow in the footsteps of several bands that have broken out of the fertile Cleveland scene like Mr. Gnome, Cloud Nothings, and Sweet Apple. It's a hard, head-down life in Cleveland, but that doesn't mean you can't ever rise up.
"[The song "P.O.C."] is half this weird vent about Cleveland because the odds are stacked," Dave says. "There's a sense because we've been doing it for so long and doing different things. We've even thought about moving. We've thought about doing all this other stuff under the sun, but we finally realized we really love Cleveland and I think there's a certain sense of owning something here."
Matt has similar sentiments. "It's like when you analyze your heritage and you find it's full of good and bad," he says. "That's how I feel about Cleveland. You give thanks for the good and bad because they made you who you are."