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A lot of obscure bands want to reach a national audience, and they send their records to NPR. Unfortunately, there's a lot of forgettable stuff in the mix, and recently the staff of All Things Considered received the kind of CD it would usually toss.
It's got a pair of singles by two bands — The Blue Jean Committee, which came out of the 1970s Massachusetts folk scene; and The Fingerlings, a British post-disco/synth band of art-school graduates. Both sound desperately tiresome.
But before chucking the disc, the show's producers noticed a familiar name on it: Fred Armisen.
An alum of Saturday Night Live, co-star of IFC's Portlandia, and, starting this Monday, bandleader on Late Night with Seth Meyers, is a musical chameleon of sorts. The bands on this release are fictional, but the songs are real: written by Armisen for sketches on SNL and now available as a series of 7" vinyl singles from the indie label Drag City.
The Fingerlings first appeared on SNL in 2011: Fred Armisen, Dana Carvey and their band, complete with new-wave wigs and trench coats, take the stage at a bar full of increasingly impatient Packers fans as the Super Bowl kicks off on the TV behind them. The skit is funny, but not necessarily because of the song, which is missing the arch punchlines common to song parodists like "Weird Al" Yankovic and Flight of the Conchords. Instead, the comedy emerges from the weird, uncomfortable tension that comes from the band being totally earnest.
"At the risk of sounding like I have fake humility, I'm just not good at putting jokes in songs," Armisen says. "There are people who are really good that. For me, it's just been more about the texture of it all."
On the new singles, that texture has to stand on its own: These are studio versions, with no angry football fans or awkward audience reactions to give them context. And Armisen's gone the whole distance, with serious-sounding press releases and legit-looking cover art (the latter of which was created by artist Damon Locks, with whom Armisen was in a real band in the 1990s, the post-hardcore outfit Trenchmouth).
Armisen's name does appear on the records for the purposes of songwriting credit. He says, however that he wishes there was a way to make their origins even more covert.
"I just like the idea of local music heroes: Those bands that were on the cusp of becoming nationally famous, but just stayed sort of regional," he says. "So in a way, it would make sense that the person buying the record has never heard of them — because only people in their town have heard of them."
The first single, featuring the Blue Jean Committee and The Fingerlings, is out now, with another due in March.