Endless Mike and the Beagle Club are from Johnstown, PA (about an hour outside of my second home, Pittsburgh), and their album St. Paul (produced by Anti-Flag's Chris Baker, adding some Pittsburgh history) embodies the DIY PA punk aesthetic that I’ve come to love over the years. Around since 2003, the band is more or less lead-singer Mike Miller’s solo project, but Miller’s friends have flowed in and out of it, making what Miller calls “an indie/punk orchestra.” Indeed, Miller has formed a club that seems like a joy to be a part of. You can hear this a-solo-project-or-a-club? dynamic throughout St. Paul: The album is as eclectic as its cover; some songs are straightforward loud punk songs, others are tinged by folk sensibilities or theatrical strings and horns, and still others are quiet ballads with Miller in the spotlight. St. Paul pulls from many sources, bringing it all together to make a commentary on philosophy, religion, and basement shows.
It can’t be emphasized enough that Miller is at the helm of this thing, because Miller’s voice is unique enough to have a you-love-it-or-hate-it quality. I’m definitely in the love-it camp: Miller embeds second-long minutia into songs to make them memorable (listen to the way Miller pronounces “further” in “Winter In Westmont”) and creates an emotional impetus for every song. The vocals are always very clear, like Modern Baseball or The Wonder Years, but way less awkward or angsty. I hesitate to give Miller this big of a compliment, but he reminds me of Rick Danko from The Band. The way Miller dynamically lingers on words in “Monitor” (a song about amazing unreleased demos) has the same quality as, say, Danko’s “The Unfaithful Servant.” I mean, come on, when Miller sings “Grandpa was Grandma’s second husband; she divorced the first a long, long time ago, back before that was okay” -- that sounds like it’s straight out of a Band album.
Like many indie Pennsylvania acts, St. Paul has some folk influences dabbed here and there. The first track, “Intro to Philosophy,” leads with a fast-paced hoedown acoustic guitar and harmonica and has that glorious steel guitar breakdown. “St. Saul” (no, not St. Paul) tells a mock-religious story with that fun, folksy attitude that again reminds me of The Band (and those backup singers are a nice touch). “The Road to Unmasking” has that slave-song intro that I don’t much care for, but it turns into a hard-hitting song where the way Miller sings the chorus could fit into a line dance.
It would be a bit disingenuous, though, to describe St. Paul as just a folk-punk combo - there’s a lot more going on, and this is where the Beagle Club comes in. The second half of “Try to See Your Life as a Whole” and “Winter in Westmont” are some of the best parts of the album, where guitar, drums, strings, and horns all swirl together to surpass any kind of genre-labeling. At the same time, though, some of the weaker parts of the album are the more sparse arrangements, like “Piano Player” and the first half of “Streetcar,” where there’s just a piano or guitar to accompany Miller. I’ll give Endless Mike and the Beagle Club credit for combining quiet songs and loud songs throughout the album, and it makes me think of an album like The Monitor, although the lyrics of St. Paul are way less epic in scope. Maybe that’s why these quieter parts don’t carry much weight for me - they come off as the token “this is the songwriter’s acoustic song” rather than something more.
I bring up Titus Andronicus because Miller does have some pretty bookish lyrics on St. Paul. I mean, the first track is “Intro to Philosophy;” and the first track of Local Business is “Ecce Homo,” which could have been called “Intro to Nietzsche.” But on St. Paul’s “Winter in Westmont” we hear Miller sing “I think I’d rather be a Kerouac than a Salinger,” and probably most bookish lyricists would pick the latter (I guarantee you Patrick Stickles would). St. Paul is definitely more emotionally lightweight than many punk albums, to the point that it has a twee quality to it at times. This will be a positive for some and a negative for others, but for me that’s why I can’t quite get into the more sentimental parts of St. Paul. My favorite parts of On The Road were the crazy characters and the big-scope perspective of America, not hearing about Kerouac’s personal torments. I’ll leave that to Salinger.
Nonetheless, there is still an overall theme on St. Paul of putting local music up on a holy pedestal, and for good reason. Endless Mike and the Beagle Club is one of the stronger indie acts I’ve discovered in a while, and St. Paul is definitely worth enough reverence to revisit multiple times. Trust me - the songs will grow on you, even the weaker ones.
8.2 / 10
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