Great Philly Records: Mischief Brew’s Songs From Under the Sink
The anarcho folk-punk band Mischief Brew was essentially a moniker for the musical creations of just one person, the late Erik Petersen. Sure, there were technically other members of the band, along with various touring guests along the way, but there was simply no mistaking that Petersen alone provided the ethos and direction for the group. The passionate message that Petersen so consistently worked into his folk-punk output was one of revolution and fighting. He was not going to stand for the status quo and you could roll him through the gates of Hell if that made you uncomfortable.
But it’s important to remember that kindness was at the root of all the rebellious lyrics he spewed atop scraggly acoustic guitar and banging piano chords. Petersen’s masterful ability to present both combative energy and genuine compassion was on full display across Mischief Brew’s sophomore LP Songs From Under the Sink.
Though released in 2006, Songs From Under the Sink is a mighty strange second effort in that the batch of 14 songs that comprise the album were written at various times between 1997 and 2002. As that five year span is entirely before Mischief Brew released their debut album, 2005’s Smash the Windows, the resulting collection of tracks can be more aptly described as eclectic than cohesive. This eclecticism includes desperate acoustic folk-punk, gypsy inspired ballads, and piano-driven anthemic croons espousing DIY ethics and political radicalism.
The opening track of the record, “Thanks, Bastards”, serves as a statement of purpose for Petersen as he ironically thanks higher institutional powers that have routinely caused harm to those less fortunate through corruption. This is a struggle he repeatedly champions through invective lyrics against racism, gentrification, and sometimes quite generally the powers that be. Mischief Brew’s lyrics are as authentic as they get on these topics. There is real scorn in Petersen’s voice when he sardonically admonishes locals to “save a city, burn it down!”. Yet there is also genuine awe and respect for those steadfastly fighting for good that are roundly celebrated on tracks like “Gratitude and Thanks”.
The very best cuts from Songs From Under the Sink are those with the most energy, and where better to find this sense of urgency than caffeine itself. “Gimme Coffee, or Death” is a gripping tale of a day that quickly morphs from banal to spectacular as a result of a clash between civilians deemed disobedient and a law enforcement none too lenient. Meanwhile, “Coffee, God, and Cigarettes” is a rambunctious sing-a-long detailing the experience of swapping one addiction for another, or in this case a very specific three others.
A drawback of this album is that nearly all of the strongest tracks are on the front half of the record. Consequently, it drags toward the end and would have benefitted with say 12, instead of 14, songs. Still, fans of Mischief Brew are able to gauge the varied musical roots that inform much of the band’s later work.
There’s both love and rage to be found on Songs From Under the Sink, a sentiment made plainly evident on the LP’s 8th track. An outsider’s first listen might peg Mischief Brew as a group that’s obstreperous just the adrenaline rush of a rebellious act, but those listening with their ears to the ground still feel the passionate empathy serving as a backdrop for this quality album.