Boy Eats Drum Machine
It’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to tune both ears and mind upon a recording solidly in an eclectic category, but can also successfully blend more common elements of hip-hop, rock and jazz. To my surprise, this cd met much more than the mark. Here I also found slight hints of classical, theater, and light operatic elements seething with dissonance, while at the same time, very cohesive and listenable.
On the cutting edge is this cd from Portland musician Jon Ragel, who wrote all the material, and is as gifted and varied as the different instruments he can play. His mission has been to defy all the confinements of genre. The instrument which has helped him define this stellar achievement is a classic hip-hop R&B drum machine. But for this cd he uses strictly conventional drum kit and a turntable. He is accompanied by Ben Rickard (synth, guitar, vocals) and Peter Swenson (drums). Miss Murgatroid lends her stylish accordion and powerful vocals, along with a few other lesser known but abled musicians who contribute nicely. Brandon Summers flute is from Helio Sequence
This saga that BEDM has successfully self-pressed is a truly unique and interesting multi -layer of sound. There are magnitudes of Psychadelia meets classical hip-hop. Kind of as if Sgt. Pepper got caught in a daunting chase in some Michael Mann film. Or, more to the mark, “1984” meets Medeski Martin and Woods (the cd’s theme is loosely based upon George Orwell’s book 1984). Jon’s vocal style can be mildly reminiscent of Lenny Kravitz at times, except the lyric content contains more thought provoking images and intensities closer to John Lennon. His delivery, along with well placed keyboard and synth are at times more like a superimposed modelling of an early Yes album. Tom Waits merges with an atom.
There are so many instrumental overtones to choose from, it sometimes boggles the mind to try and figure out the actual from the synthetic. The female voicings are well placed, and angelic. The Instruments are impeccably precise. I felt as if on a mysterious journey, but safe onboard Ragel’s tightly-built spacecraft travelling back in time. This effort seethes with discontent, yet soothes the listener and entices you for more, like a great novel – Think of reading Tim Robbins “Jitterbug Perfume”while listening to the soundtrack from “5th Element.”
The opening track “3000 Flares” which at first contains some familiar hip-hop beats, but soon hints with hooky horns and on -demand powerful voicings. John starts by telling us that we’re about to hear a story about the destructive intent of mankind, but with options to try to forge a future where we can do the right things. His loving female companion is remotely by his side as he beckons her to come away with him in, “From an Oregon shore.” With each bridge of the song, he uses different instruments to keep driving the story uniquely further. This is a very catchy tune. The bass lines keep the song attentive, and the back up “doo doo doot” voicings are cool. Keyboard noodlings give it a morphemic dream sequential feeling to it.
Next stop lands us somewhere between a spaghetti western meets a scene from Pulp Fiction. “Into the open spacs of the west”. I love the female vocals that he sprinkles in, they have a slight Star Trek theme sound to them. Ragel can easily paint vivid pictures of time and space. As the following tracks surge ahead, they begin to command more and more attention. They take many twists and turns which give the listener many sounds and textures to move and delight the emotions. “Asleep” has a lullaby quality and soothing motherly-like vocals from Laura Gibson. Definitely cohesive a bright. Great upright bass thumps beat like a heart floating in a warm bath.
“In Crossing Wind” wakes us up and takes us to a triumphant escape. Fight or flee. Flight or fancy. Plenty of changes in this piece. Movements might be more like it. Something that Le Tour Du Bloc or Ensemble Modern might do. Soft, yet strong female pipes continue to ad emotional color and balance. It has an outtake quality to it, like what is heard at the end of The Beatles “Piggies”.
Children’s toys, clocks, and drumming headhunters go together so well I always say, and whodathunk the twine could meet? The Beastie Boys, Bolivian Monks, and Link Wray can actually play together- the hell you say! Parlament and Pink Floyd write songs together- alas! If you don’t belive me, just listen to tracks 6 – 8.
“The Damned” is a killer number with some great rock vamping. It also carries some Tom Waits and ‘Beastie’ vocal stylings. The bridge is in delightful disarray – yet it somehow has a classic rock quality that should somehow be on the radio. The responding vocals are thin and quivering as if through a megaphone. “Alliances” and “Villiage Bells” are delivered with a Floydian like temper, and whispered in a Roger Waters like scrawl. Miss Murgatroids spacey vocals along with the melting organ lines wind chimes are arresting.
“Two Ghosts” is a nice book ending pop song with its wispy rhythm guitar, simple yet ample keyboard lines that go nicely together. both tenor and baritone saxophone are utilized simultaneously, tightly honking like an choral flock of geese . This song is reminiscent of some of the better B sides of hits from the 80’s. The “Reprise” that finalizes the cd calls to mind early Elvis Costello and the Attractions with its soaring church organ and repeating chorus line.
This cd ranks among the most varied and thought provoking I’ve heard in a long time. A class act of integration and cohesiveness. A bright scope of well thought out themes, and vast array of instrumentation, makes it the real deal. A simple yet compelling story explained through the beautiful complexity of music.
There is a splendor. There is war with its ultimatums. There is hope, there is fear. But through it all there is love that prevails. And, just as in the year 1984, there are still musical territories that are still being successfully discovered.
© 2011 Buko Magazine