CD Review: Midwestern Death’s debut EP a portrait of 20-something Rockford

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-1153944586417.jpg’, ”, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11539446081212.jpg’, ‘EP cover by Jason Judd’, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115394464632391.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jason Judd’, ‘Bassist Marieke McClendon (left) and drummer Scott Ford in the studio.’);

Midwestern Death is the perfect name for a band that personifies post-“Screw City,” post-Cheap Trick, 20-something Rockford.

With most of Rockford’s manufacturing industry gone, its public school system in a seemingly constant state of rebuilding and a mammoth county jail being built in the heart of the city, the “future of Rockford” is wondering what it has to look forward to. In many ways, we are witnessing the death of the industrial Midwest—at least as we know it—and the group’s music seems to capture this portrait.

Midwestern Death’s self-titled debut EP, due July 29, is nearly 20 minutes of somber and sobering layered rock, rockabilly and alt-country built around whiskey-tinged lyrics that shed the outer walls of pretension and superficiality to explore the true feeling within.

Across the EP’s four tracks, Chris Johnson (electric guitar), Jason Judd (pedal steel guitar/electric guitar/mandolin), Scott Ford (drums/backup vocals) and Marieke McClendon (bass/backup vocals) weave slow-rolling layers around the pain-soaked vocals and acoustic guitar of Dave Pedersen.

Pedersen, who served in the U.S. Army but did not serve in war, draws on his life experiences in his lyrics.

On the disk’s first track, “Graveyard Tramps,” Pedersen sings: “I’m living/like a tramp in a graveyard/under stars/is where I lay my head to rest/and I go to bed/with liquor on my breath/and I’m waking up/just to do it all again.” The alt-country tune features the twang of Judd’s pedal steel and the backing vocals of McClendon and Ford, and the lyrics seem a retrospective of life in a blue-collar town, where each day blends together as one.

The second track, “Illinois Vet,” is arguably the EP’s best. Pedersen draws on the dialogue he’s had with others about his military service, and how they seem only to care about whether he killed anybody (to those who inquire, it seems almost a letdown that he hasn’t, as if his service were not honorable). Surrounded by a slow-turning electric guitar curl and strong bass beat, Pedersen explains how his service to his country seems to have disrupted his life: “Well, I had a girl back home who used to call me every day/But soon enough we’d run out of things to say/But I’ve seen her once or twice since I’ve been home/But she didn’t do too much, just talked on her phone.”

“Girl Next Door,” the disk’s third track, is a dark, somber, multi-layered, slow-moving alt-country rocker about how painful love can be—especially when it dies or never blossoms. The 52-second intro features slow-moving guitars that later wander around the choruses. Any guy who’s ever had his heart broken will feel Pedersen’s sorrow when he sings, “Did she think I was just a mistake?” The song ends with a trailing guitar peppered with atmospherics.

The final track, “Pale Horse,” is the hardest rocker of the four. The slow-roller begins with a 48-second instrumental lead-in, highlighted by a slow-pulse bass beat. The lyrics detail a life wasted—someone trapped in the prison of drug abuse. “Don’t you see that you are going to die?/A wasted life/Don’t you hear your mother cryin’?/Don’t you know your friends are tryin’?” Pedersen sings.

For a band that played its first show a little less than a year ago (Aug. 5, 2005) and has undergone a drummer change and added a guitar player, this EP is a good starting point to its recording career. The same goes for M.I.A. Records, which recorded, mixed and mastered the EP at its new production studio above the old Minglewood on Jefferson Street.

There are obviously some rough edges on Midwestern Death. Pedersen’s vocals are at times impossible to understand, and Ford’s drums are a little muffled here and there. But the bottom line is this is a sincere group of musicians that continues to create a sound of its own and that deserves the encouragement of having music fans buy their EP.

Midwestern Death will unveil their EP with a CD release party at 9 p.m., Saturday, July 29, at Mary’s Place, 602 N. Madison St. The EP will be available for $5. Opening act is Omega Battalion. For info about the show, call 962-7944. For more about Midwestern Death, including music samples, visit

From the July 26-Aug. 1, 2006, issue

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