I’ll never forget the first time I met Ziggy. This dude with crazy hair and a funny hat showed up to play at the very first Llamapalooza, a Halloween party slash concert we hosted in my bassist’s barn. He was super duper nice, and before either of us heard the other play, we had already swapped CDs. A little while later, he got up to play his solo set. That night, I heard “Stomp” for the first time, and my whole life changed. I practiced guitar a little harder after seeing what this guy was doing. That CD ended up spinning a billion times in my car, and I get “Buzzkill” and “Nota” stuck in my head all the time.
Dave “Ziggy” Deitke, the singer and guitarist for C-Level (“That’s letter C dash!”), has proven over and over again that he’s one of the best guitarists in town. On Burn Your Own Gasoline, he does so in the highest quality yet, and with the best ear for composition.
This is due in large part to the fact that C-Level has finally solidified their lineup. For years, if you went to a show with C-Level on the bill, chances were about 80% you were gonna see Ziggy play solo. Now, they’re going forward confidently with Coda Crose on bass (he also plays in the fantastic Wanyama) and Pat Boland on drums, and gigging like crazy. As much as I love Ziggy solo, the dynamic that the trio create is so thrilling. And it’s the only show where you’re guaranteed to witness a handstand-battle at the end of the show.
What’s most invigorating about C-Level’s new material is that you can tell that Ziggy is in an especially good mood. He’s always been a happy-go-lucky fella, but here on Burn Your Own Gasoline, he glows. I think I know the reason, too: I think our little Ziggy is in love!
Case in point: track 3, “Wherever I Go,” stands among the best love songs in the scene. Droning guitar chords in the background feel like subtle stomach butterflies, with leading melodies overlaid, like eyes flickering back and forth in conscious recognition of what is causing the butterflies. The hook is simple and serene: “Wherever I go, I hope you are there.” It breaks out into a brief but anthemic solo, like if J Mascis was psyched to be alive. The vocal delivery is breathy and honest. I love this song.
They follow that with a sharp cover of Devandra Banhart’s “Lover,” with Michelle Gaw singing pretty harmonies (she’s also featured prominently in this issue of Postman Press). The next song, “For Some Account,” keeps up the optimistic feel, brings Gaw back for more, and adds Lea Marra to the vocal section; it’s got a second wave ska sort of feel, which suits this funky reggae crew to a T. “For Some Account” is the longest song on the record proper, and it should be well-documented by now that I always expect the longest song on any album to be the weakest. That’s true here; it repeats a lot for four and a half minutes before it finally breaks out and finds a ball of energy. I reckon the first section could have been a bit shorter, and maybe the song could have ended after about 4:30. That said, it’s totally fine for what it is. I want it to play in the background at a party in a purple smoky room, where it will fit in perfectly, and time won’t exist anyway.
The album incorporates elements from funk, reggae, pop, and punk- but most prominently, Burn Your Own Gasoline is a swampy blues album. Opener “Bac Bac Train” and “Cleanest Hands” are both train-style songs, each with Ziggy playing lap steel and harmonica, the first in draggy minor key, and the latter major and unabashedly forward-moving. Hot lyric: “The cleanest hands make the dirtiest money!”
I have felt in the past that Ziggy had room to grow as a lyricist and composer, as sometimes he would get sucked into his loop pedal like a black hole. With his band finally fully-assembled behind him, he opens up and washes away both of these criticisms. It’s exciting to see these guys realize the talents they’ve displayed in a live setting for so long, and collect them for an album that feels really complete.
The obvious single is “Easy For,” from which I was whistling the chorus melody for three days after I left their album release party. Ziggy’s solo rips. This has been a centerpiece of their live show for a long time, and finally it gets the studio justice it deserves.
The title track features Coda’s best bass work, while Ziggy screams. It seems to be about somebody who is always hitching rides. Ziggy’s tired of driving them around, and he wants them to get a car.
The last new song here is “Hard Funk,” the fastest tempo on the record. Ziggy’s wah riff, combined with uncomfortably quick harmonies, make this a stressful song. If the other tracks were train songs, this is the engine about to run off the track and into the river. It suddenly breaks into a slower section in the outro, where Boland plays some sick syncopated beats while Ziggy rips yet another solo. They never get old.
And finally, the last track on the album is a new version of “Stomp,” recorded live at Negative Space. “Stomp” has been Ziggy and C-Level’s closer for years, even appearing on that first demo he handed me in the barn all those years ago. So what justifies yet another release of “Stomp”? Two words are enough: James Muschler, then still drumming for Moon Hooch. He’s playing hand drums, and Lee Kolarik from Mimi Arden (where he jams with Michelle Gaw) adds further drums and percussion. Swimming in rhythms, this may be the all-time definitive version of the song. But I still joked to my friend today that Ziggy could put “Stomp” on every album he releases for the rest of his life, and I won’t complain once.
C-Level’s 2018 release Rights was great in its own right, but with Burn Your Own Gasoline, the band has outdone all their previous benchmarks on an album loaded with hooks and heart. Knowing these guys, I think they may still have some room to grow, too, so for now enjoy Burn Your Own Gasoline for the excellence it is, and expect even greater things from perhaps the band in town with the most raw talent.