Hot Pants!

by Keri Carlson

The name never really had any meaning,” said Ben Clark, the bassist for the local group Mel Gibson and the Pants. Ryan Olson who started the band had tiles with pictures of Mel Gibson (the actor) on them in his house in Eau Claire, Wis., where the band was first conceived. And in the grand tradition of bands named after “someone and the somethings,” Mel Gibson and the Pants was born.

Of course, the name happened long before the big “Passion” hoopla. It started back in the days when the name Mel Gibson represented blockbuster Hollywood and the ability to deliver a zinging one-liner as a building blew up. The name still has its original charm of a big-name celebrity and his article of clothing (for some reason pants seem to be the funniest of all clothing items). Keyboardist Eric Busse said, “People either think it’s the worst name ever or the best name ever.” But now the name Mel Gibson carries more connotations. Since “The Passion,” Mel has shown how truly loony he is.

The former good-natured goofiness of the name reflected the band’s sense of humor, especially seen in their song titles like “Crosby Steals Nash and Runs” and “Monkey Sea Monkey Hairdo,” but it was a bit misleading ñ perhaps better suited for a juvenile ska band.

The new creepy Mel Gibson image is more fitting. The track “Ghini” takes a horror film soundtrack and hacks it with a chainsaw. Bodies hang from the rafters of a dimly lit barn hidden in a dense forest as MC J.R. whispers in voice that channels Ed Gein when he says, “I kiss the pretty ladies with my sharp tongue.”

The rest of Mel Gibson and the Pants’ album “A Mannequin American” is not quite as scary. Nonetheless, the band creates a stunningly strange mixture of experimental, electronic, hip-hop and loud post-punk with squeaky beeps, deep-thumping bass and wave-crashing cymbals that all swim in thick reverberation.

This odd blend makes the band transformable ñ able to bleed over into any genre. They have played shows with everyone from dance-poppy Har Mar Superstar, to hillbilly-punk Kentucky Gag Order, to rapper P.O.S. (who appears on “A Mannequin American”). It’s not unheard of that a band plays with different musicians outside of their genre, but in Mel Gibson and the Pants’ case, the bill they play on affects how they are heard. For instance, on a hip-hop bill, J.R.’s nasally and swift rhymes are the emphasis rather than a Crossfaded night with intelligent dance music, drum and bass where Olson’s droning sequencer is the highlight.

Whether or not the name really suits the band, guitarist Riley Hartnett said, “No one ever forgets it.” But even more unforgettable is Mel Gibson and the Pants’ weird hybrid of sound that J.R. sums up best on the title track when he states, “This is my confessional the prototypical, digital MC manifesto.”