It’s been two years since we last heard from kinetic Oakland art-rockers Club Night, and if you’re asking, that’s two years too damn long in my book. Fortunately, that hiatus has come to an end.
When we checked in with the band about a year ago, Club Night frontman Joshua Bertram conceded to struggling with a creative torpor brought on by the bewildering effects of the pandemic. He and his bandmates seem to have shaken that malaise in the form of a new song, and although it’s not a Club Night original, it’s an exciting preview into what could be the band’s next chapter.
As part of a fundraising album released by the Boston-based label Disposable America, Club Night contributed a cover song of Community College’s “Gasoline.” The cover track is the band’s first recorded output since their critically lauded 2019 album, What Life.
A bedroom pop band with a knack for loping, lo-fi confessionals, Community College has gained a cult following in recent years, and Disposable America has garnered an impressive coterie of artists (among them Spencer Radcliffe and Squirrel Flower) to contribute covers of the band’s 2019 debut album, Comco. All proceeds from the album, which is now available on Bandcamp, will benefit Allston-Brighton Community Fridges, an effort to support food justice programs in the Boston metro area.
Like the original version, Club Night’s cover of “Gasoline” starts off with a humble, ambling pace, highlighted by Bertram’s constrained vocals. Known for his high-pitched, emotive register — which straddles unrestrained whimsy and painful agony — Bertram dials it back considerably for the cover, almost whispering the opening lines.
Other changes include the introduction of Ian Tatum’s slide guitar, a mournful addition that marks a transition from his normal histrionics, which tend toward the exuberant and unhinged. Bertram also deploys a purring Rhodes piano for the track, a first for the band.
For the bulk of the song, the band is a paragon of control, and when Bertram coos “I remember being hunted to extinction,” — a wounded line that would not sound out of place on What Life — one could imagine Club Night having a second life as a brooding, slowcore band.
However, this being Club Night, a cathartic payoff is always in the offing, and at the 2:30 mark of the song, the fireworks come out. Under a caterwaul of cascading drums, scratchy guitars, and immersive effects, Bertram belts out the song’s emotional coda, “Honesty is trouble to me!” punctuating those words with an ascending auto-tune delivery (yet another new wrinkle for the band.) The track finishes in exhausting fashion, with the lapping sounds of water evaporating slowly in the outro.
Bertram said the quieter aspects of the cover track could offer a glimpse into a more sedate version of Club Night, which has always specialized in byzantine, frantic creations.
“There has definitely been a slight shift in how we sound,” said Bertram, who thinks Club Night was tapped to contribute the cover because of his frequent support for Community College on Twitter. “Now that we’ve been a 4-piece for a while, we have been starting to chisel away at the wall of sound we’re used to making, so there is some space in the music for the listener to breathe.”
Bertram said the band contributed each part of the cover song separately, and didn’t actually get together to perform it as a whole, but he noted that the process injected some new life into their creative process for their next album. The band recently began practicing together on tracks for their sophomore LP, with writing now essentially done for six of the album’s nine tracks. He hopes to begin recording the album sometime this summer, provided progress continues in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The Community College cover album is available for purchase on Bandcamp here. It is a great opportunity to hear a number of bands offer their unique versions of some outstanding songs, and it’s all for a good cause. It also represents a moment to hear Club Night in what could be the beginning of an intriguing transformation.