Church's Sly Dickens

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Don't hate J Church's Lance Hahn because he's smart. Even though he likes to drop the kind of names in his songs that would send the average listener running for a reference book or the Internet — actress Jean Seberg, Manson Family moll Sadie Mae Glutz, documentary filmmaking pioneer (and rumored mistress of Hitler) Leni Riefenstahl — Hahn swears that it's not contrived. "There are movies that I'm excited by," says the sometimes video store clerk, "so I want to drop that name so maybe someone will catch on and see that movie." This cerebral altruism spills over into the music made by the San Francisco-based trio. The band's new record, One Mississippi (Honest Don's) is shot through with acoustic piano, finely drawn character studies and those brainy namechecks, all tucked slyly within the safe confines of pop-punk. The disc is also oddly retro, with broad strokes of Hüsker Dü and The Cure eddying under Hahn's not-unpleasantly nasal vocal delivery.

Although it's the first full-length studio record from J Church since 1996, One Mississippi's 26-track bulk may seem excessive until you realize the band's inherently prolific nature. Since forming in 1992, they've put out about a dozen full-lengths, depending on whom you ask, and three singles comps, not to mention the singles themselves.

So what took so long for the band to record One Mississippi? Well, for one thing, the band toured for more than a year in support of 1998's Cat Food, an odds-and-sods release. Somewhere along the line, Hahn split with J Church co-founder, bassist Gardner Maxam. Then, suffering from what he thought was bronchitis, Hahn visited the San Francisco free hospital and discovered that his problem was actually high blood pressure and hypertension. "They told me, "you don't have bronchitis, you're about to have a heart attack.'" Thanks to medication and Hahn's vegetarian diet, though, he's back in business with a new bass player (Jeff Bursley) and new drummer, Jawbreaker's Adam Pfahler.

One Mississippi teems with memorable characters, from the leopard-coated party girl of "Anybody" and the overly analytical, compulsive video-renter of "Imaginary Friends," to the begrudging mama's boy of "Your Mother" and the horny Mister Lonelyhearts of "The Track." Hahn says that these people are generally composites of folks he meets or knows well. Then there are the aforementioned songs about celebrities, like "Sadie Mae Glutz," which started out, according to Hahn, sounding like Prince's "Annie Christian," but ended up as J Church's tribute to Sonic Youth's "Death Valley '69". Hahn does confess to being "one of those nerds who really gets interested in all that stuff," but in large part the song was inspired by nostalgia.

"When I was a kid," he says, "I can remember when I stopped reading children's books and started reading regular books. The first three books I can remember reading were Macbeth, because I had to, and some Robert Heinlen science fiction thing, and Helter Skelter. ... Our generation's the post-'60s, cynical generation, so all the nostalgia's sort of on a downer."

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