IT DOESN'T TAKE LONG to get the gist of a Manhattan Murder Mystery song. The LA quintet specializes in simple (but never simplistic) sing-along punk anthems, with basic, heart-sore melodies that you'll have committed to memory after hearing once. That makes it all the easier to focus on the painfully plain lyrics that frontman Matthew Teardrop wrenches out of his gravelly bark, as he stirs rage and frustration into explosions of catharsis that approach something, something like—dare I say it?—joy.
The ability to make their songs' dark depths so immediate and so accessible makes Manhattan Murder Mystery easily the best band named after a Woody Allen movie. (The worst? Love and Death, the new outfit from former Korn guitarist Brian "Head" Welch.)
"We had pages and pages of band names," Teardrop says of MMM's unusual moniker. "I was just watching that movie, and I was like, 'Oh, that's a band name.' And that was one we all agreed on. But it doesn't have any particular meaning."
Teardrop started Manhattan Murder Mystery after moving to LA from his home state of Virginia following the breakup of a band that turned into, in his words, "a Fleetwood Mac situation." He initially had his sights set for San Francisco, but when his housing situation there went very, very wrong—he tells me it all ended when someone's dog got shot in the front yard—Teardrop tried LA on for size. Finding some likeminded musicians on Craigslist, Manhattan Murder Mystery was formed, now a five-piece featuring new keyboardist Mateo Katz alongside Teardrop, guitarist Todd McLaughlin, bassist Katya Arce, and drummer Laura Velez.
The band's latest EP, Women House, is six excellent tracks of tattered and damaged rock that's fueled by alcohol and shitty jobs. Each song threatens to teeter off the rails into spittle-flecked rage, but instead locates a space of very definite grace. "Stadium Way" deals with the desperation of couch surfing and endless job applications; "Arlington Cemetary [sic]" tensely bristles as the narrator's family pushes him unwillingly into the military; "Sancho" is a devastating farewell to a friend who's as equally fucked up as the singer ("Maybe it's just hard for me to believe/That I'm bad for you and you're bad for me").
"It's mostly stuff that's happened to me," Teardrop says of his songwriting. "I don't know what else to write about. When I first started, for a while I was, like, doing Morrissey or something. I even tried to sing like him, kind of. But I had this job on Melrose, in this fancy shopping area where Paris Hilton would hang out, and I had this really horrible boss who was this really big asshole and treated all the employees really bad. He would threaten to fire me every day. One time he threw a six-pack of Fiji water at me. But I hung in there for two years, never got a raise or anything. I didn't want to not have any more money, so I just got paid and hung in there. Then one day, he was just like, oh, you're fired, just for no particular reason. And that really pissed me off—but then I started writing some new songs that weren't so much like Morrissey. That's kind of when I was like, well, I don't know what I'm doing—I'm not some poet. But I guess I probably relate more to people with bad jobs."
With a strong self-titled album from 2011 and the magnificent Women House under their belts, plus a newly recorded full-length that the band is currently shopping around, MMM is on the brink of turning these tales of bad luck and dead-end jobs into something truly fortunate. All it'll take is a few more listeners, a few more fans—but like I said, it doesn't take long to get a Manhattan Murder Mystery song stuck in your head.