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The best kept secret in music


"NY Times"

Grand Mal mixes three parts Rolling Stones, one part Velvet Underground and the wit to come up with lines like, "I'm going home I can't sit still/When I'm with you I feel incurably ill," for rock with an unabashed swagger.

- New York TImes


Rating 8.0
BillWhitten knows what he's talking about when it comes to bad timing: with his early-90s band St. Johnny, the Grand Mal leader got a couple toes in the door as part of the post-Nirvana alterna-signing sweepstakes, arriving too late to cash in on the opportunity. Where that might be enough to discourage an average rocker, inviting the certain state of laziness that so often results from near-successes, Whitten reinvented himself as glam-rock savior well ahead of the current revivalist trend-- except now that he's perfected the style, it's already a casualty of overexposure and style-over-substance bandwagon-jumpers.

So when Whitten sings that the "21st century/ Bores the hell out of me" on "Duty Free", I'm inclined to believe him, because what better way to erase time's relevance from the equation but to live in the past, a past where Marc Bolan still swaggers to the bang of a gong, Lou Reed still can't decide whether he'd rather score speed or chase transvestites, and the Replacements weren't even a twinkle in papa Alex Chilton's eye.

Still, all the dramatic nostalgia in the world is useless unless the songs are there to back it up, and that's where Whitten has surpassed his previous two outings with Grand Mal. All eleven tracks on Bad Timing are gems that balance a knack for brain-lodging choruses with the grime and stylistic drift of Exile on Main Street, begging a record collection's worth of comparisons with nary an instance of outright thievery. Whitten's lyrics are about as sharp as they come-- lines like "She says I look like a fascist/ With my black mustaches" ("Old Fashioned"), "She was standin' on the corner/ Smokin' marijuana/ Drinkin' Hi-C" ("Duty Free"), and "She was a first round knockout/ She was a beauty school dropout/ She was full from the fat of the land" ("1st Round K.O.") just skim the surface of the singer's knack for unlikely rhymes and clever turns of phrase. He even manages to adopt an impartial narrative style on tracks like "Disaster Film" that packs more gritty urban drama into five minutes than Dick Wolf can spew forth in an entire season of Law & Order spinoffs.

Of course, Dave "You might remember me from such productions as The Soft Bulletin, Deserter's Songs and Hate" Fridmann's presence behind the boards certainly doesn't hurt. Though Fridmann has worked with Whitten regularly, dating back to the St. Johnny days, Bad Timing is the first record where they've really connected on a visionary level. Fridmann seems to consciously avoid going the heavily orchestrated route that has worked so well with the Lips and Mercury Rev, instead allowing Whitten to stick to the rawk while adding just enough sonic tweaks to warp things out of the ordinary -- unless female backup singers that sound as if they've been duct-taped into the mix or slide guitar disguised as a gobbling turkey don't qualify as unusual anymore.

The only real problem that Whitten has to contend with now is keeping a band together long enough to take this new batch of songs on the road-- he's the only member of the current five-piece Grand Mal lineup that even played on this record. As of this writing there's still room at the end of the coattails for another New York band or two, but in a year, as elephants represent the best that indie rock and US politics to the masses, Whitten's Bad Timing may-- regrettably-- find him slipping through the cracks of consequence yet again.

-Scott Hreha, May 1st, 2003

- Pitchforkmedia


Rating 8/10
Great timing. Long a patron of rock'n'roll in the New York manner (all derelict buildings and leather jackets), Bill Whitten's Grand Mal find the world has finally come round to their way of thinking. For we find this record chainsmoking at the end of the bar. We find it dispensing classic riffs, bad attitude and stupid wisdom over each of its 11 songs (scrutinize particularly "Get Lost" and "Quicksilver"), and we see it push an erratic talent reluctantly into the light. The phrase 'good-time rock'n'roll' has long ceased to be a simple endorsement of quality and become a whole culture of unhealthy. Within a family tree that runs from "Exile on Main Street" through Primal Scream and Royal Trux, "Bad Timing" holds it's own brilliantly.


"NYC fivesome get their rocks off."

Rating 4/5
Red in tooth and claw, Grand Mal's third album is a raucous righteous paean to the mythological decadence of their hometown. There are, however, enough kinks in their bourbon-soaked blueprint to deflect charges of artlessness, with the ingeniously ersatz gospel of the title track, for example, recalling Odelay-era Beck. But it's their dirty, lowdown rock pastiches that truly score , with "First Round Knockout" and "Duty Free" beaming with the glam-kissed exuberance of the New York Dolls. A Bona fide blast of ageless, pretension-free rock'n'roll, "Bad Timing" is the nazz.



Grand Mal (No. 6, 1996)
Pleasure Is No Fun (No. 6, 1997)
“Whole Lotta Nothing”/”Life’s a Gas” CD single (Slash/London, 1998)
“Stay in Bed” from Jawbreaker: Music from the Motion Picture (London, 1999)
“Stay in Bed (Death in Vegas Remix)” CD single (Slash/London, 1999)
Maledictions (Slash/London, 1999)
“Hey Man” from This is Next Year: A Brooklyn-Based Compilation (Arena Rock, 2001)
Bad Timing (Arena Rock, 2003)
Love Is The Best Con in Town (New York Night Train, 2006)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Grand Mal has spent a decade churning out albums loaded with brilliant off-kilter rock’n’roll gems about first
round K.O.’s, bail-jumping ex-wives, disaster films, mustachioed fascists and endless misadventures.
Throughout their evolution from grungy heavy pop to technological glam to full-on classic rock’n’roll, leader Bill
Whitten’s trademark deadpan vocal delivery, uncommon songwriting sensibility, and willingness to experiment
have remained the band’s consistent marks of distinction. Whitten’s previous band, Hartford, CT’s noise-pop ne'erdo-
wells St. Johnny, who Sonic Youth signed to Geffen, imploded in 1995. With only a cheap Epiphone Les Paul Jr. copy and
a notebook full of rough edged hits to his name, Whitten found himself in New York. Inspired by the New York Dolls, T-Rex,
and Mott the Hoople instead of his previously indie-centric influences, Whitten introduced Grand Mal later that year.
Continuing work with St. Johnny producer Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips, etc.), Grand Mal released a couple of
critically acclaimed records on No. 6 before Slash/London came knocking at their door. Despite a successful release and
some touring in the UK, Grand Mal’s 1999 Maledictions was lost in limbo stateside thanks to the Seagram’s buyout of the
label’s parent company, PolyGram. Arena Rock released the band’s next long-player Bad Timing in 2003 (which features the
multi-instrumental work of Flaming Lip Stephen Drozd) to considerable acclaim. Scott Hreha of Pitchfork, in a review that
gave the album an 8.0 rating, hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “The only real problem that Whitten has to contend
with now is keeping a band together long enough to take this new batch of songs on the road… Whitten's Bad Timing may —
regrettably -- find him slipping through the cracks of consequence yet again.”

When 2005 rolled around Grand Mal was without a steady lineup. Whitten did, however, have a sheaf of new songs under
his arm and an army of rock’n’roll friends to lay down tracks. The resulting album, Love is the Best Con in Town was created
in his apartment over a seven-month period. He recorded the piano tracks at a mid-town rehearsal studio and the drum
tracks in another practice space with his collaborator of eight years, drummer Parker Kindred (Adam Green, Antony and the
Johnsons, ex-Jeff Buckley, etc.). He next filled the remainder of the tracks week by week at his apartment with a cast of
more than twenty friends and collaborators that include Joan Wasser (AKA Joan as Policewoman) and members of Hopewell,
The Silent League, and The Fame. The first Grand Mal recording not co-produced and engineered by Dave Fridmann, Love Is
The Best Con In Town was however mastered by the master himself at his Tarbox Road Studio. Simmering with homegrown
soul, the piano-based album is more stripped down and less bombastic than previous Grand Mal efforts – think of a collision
of early Todd Rundgren, Holland-era Beach Boys, Hunky Dory, and of course the unabashed swagger of classic Grand Mal-style
Whitten’s friend, former Mal member Jonathan Toubin, who had spent hours listening to an early version of Love Is The Best
Con In Town on an overseas flight (over and over), begged Bill to let him release the album when he launched New York
Night Train Recordings. Whitten has also assembled an impressive new incarnation of Grand Mal with members of New York
up-and-comers like The Silent League, Great Lakes, Mason Dixon, and Stars Like Fleas. With his best record and band lineup
to date, Grand Mal is back in a big way.