Jeffrey Lewis – 12 Crass Songs

Born and raised in New York City’s Lower East Side by beatnik parents, it’s no surprise that Jeffrey Lewis is as punk and anti-folk as they come. Coming of age during New York’s anti-folk movement had a major impact on his later musical endeavors. Lewis’ s latest album , 12 Crass Songs, is collection of reworked songs by the anarchist punk band Crass. Helen Schreiner provides backing vocals and helps Lewis put folk, rock, orchestral and electronica variations on these classic anarchist punk songs without losing their original political power.

The album opens with “End Result,” a melodic tune that provides stinging social commentary on how the general public hardly matters but is seen as mere products and statistics for corporations to profit from, a fact which the general public is oblivious to. “I Ain’t Thick” follows in the same vain, this time directly attacking consumerism, education and religion with cutthroat lyrics like “Books are easy backup for what they want to do to you / They’ll bind you up in slavery for the privileged few / They’ll prove their lies with history, say “That’s the way it always was / Slavery or mastery; be one of us.” Lewis’s anti-folk style loses none of the political zing, though the anger in the song’s chorus hasn’t translated as well from its anarchist punk original.

“Systematic Death” features a bouncy melody backed by a well-crafted bongo beat. Schreiner’s vocals appear more at the forefront here and she and Lewis go back and forth telling the story of a couple kept down by the system at an early age and continuing until the end of their lives. “The Gasman Cometh” also denounces government and the system drawing a parallel between the “ashes at Auschewitz” and the United States looking “for peace in Iraq.” The song also denounces the citizens who stand and turn a blind eye to the atrocities happening around them. In “Banned From The Roxy,” Lewis, like Crass, gives a huge middle finger to the establishment trying to silence his words that go against the system.

On “Demoncrats,” an eerie static plays over a mellow and morose woodwind which is soon followed by Lewis’s voice full with melancholy. Sound clips from various newscasts play in between verses, establishing a tortured and haunted feel as the song’s lyrics paint a picture of death and destruction, supposedly in the name of freedom. “Big A, Little A” features the most deviations from its Crass counterpart, but retains every ounce of its call for people to make the future theirs by tipping the balance of power away from corrupted governments and back into the hands of the people. Lewis includes Crass’ “Punk Is Dead” as a recognition that even the punk movement which denounced corruption of government and capitalism was susceptible to the ideas it was against: “Punk became a movement because they all felt lost / But the leaders sold out and now we all pay the cost / And punk is dead.”

Turning abrasive punk rock in music with more accessibility for a wider audience is no easy task, but Lewis more than succeeds on 12 Crass Songs. With his newest release, Lewis brings out the anarchist in us all, making Crass proud.

Look for 12 Crass Songs official US release on January 29, 2008. Also check out his CD release show on January 30th at New York’s Mercury Lounge, which will be followed by a spot opening for both Super Furry Animals and The Mountain Goats throughout the month of February.

Jeffrey Lewis website | myspace
Rough Trade Records website | myspace
Beggars Group website

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