(All Album Reviews by Sean)
I picked up this cd a few months ago while I was in Nashville checking out King Crimson. I didn't know exactly what to expect (from this cd). I had read a review of it though that said it's instrumentation rivaled Steely Dan's, so that piqued my interest. Also I had a copy of Mike Keneally's cd, Boil That Dust Speck (which contains an amusing and amazing collage of great Steve Howe riffs on a tune called "Faithful Axe"- Yes fans take note), which had interesting tunes but sometimes was just weird for weirds sake I think, it was good and amazing, but didn't keep me coming back to it. I heard this cd was more melodic and accessible though, so I figured I'd try it...... The above mentioned review was right, it was a dense mixture of sounds that caught my ear right away! And the hooks came flying after me from the get go. The opening track alone, "Live In Japan", was a breath of fresh air and pretty damn infectious. Intelligent pop? Maybe. Kinda like...Steely?? A tad but not really, maybe more Rundgrenish meets Zappa.... In case you don't know, Beer For Dolphins is the brainchild of guitarist/composer Keneally. He has released a number of solo cds prior to putting BFD together. BFD is kinda like a big(ger) band approach to his music. Vibes, sax, keys, trumpet, 2 guitars, bass and drums makes up their BIG sound. Mike played with the legendary Frank Zappa so as you can imagine, his talent is pretty monsterous. But his songwriting is right up there with his amazing chops. He balances the two very well. The cd starts in a pop/rock way and gets progressively denser and more demanding. The second half of this cd is pretty out there, but in a very listenable way. There's more than a touch of Frank's influence felt here and I think it's great! But thats not all. Check out the samples for yourself. I think there's a lot here that a prog rock fan or just a fan of good music will enjoy.
The band simply runs the table in any style you can think of. Part straight up rock and psychedelia, part off the wall jazz with a liberal dose of incredibly complex and driving classical pomp. Mikey is really showing that his roots are with Frank Zappa's band where he replaced Steve Vai as the stunt guitarist on FZ's last tour (1988) before his death.
This was the next logical step for MK/BFD after 1997's excellent Sluggo!. This album finds the reconstituted and augmented eight piece BFD band (adding a second guitarist, two horn and woodwind players and a marimba/percussionist to the original bass, drums, keys combo) making a huge sound. The vibes and brass players add an entirely new dimension to the band, filling out the sound and giving it a very Zappa-esque sort of feel. The recording is also a vast improvement over the previous releases, sounding more transparent with a truly widescreen cinemascope soundstage.
Here's a few of my favorite moments:
The album opens with "Live in Japan", a wacky power-pop megasingle with a "Circus from Hell" finish. Gotta love that Drums and Wires era XTC chorus at the end!
Then there's a monster Seattle grunge pre-Aqualung Jethro Tull kinda number.
There's the off kilter jazzy and XTC-ish sounds of "Backwards Deb".
The totally Steely Dan-ish, subtle and sentimental "Joe" and "I Was Not Ready For You". These tracks bring everything that's missing on the new Dan album to the table. Tight and creative playing and a real sense of having something to say.
The amazingly complicated yet oddly melodic "Pretty Enough for Girls", seeming ripped right from the Frank Zappa songbook. Indescribably odd and adventurous. Incredible track. How does a person even begin writing a song like this?
"PE4G" jumps right into "Taster", an instrumental Stevie Ray Vaughn blues guitar tinged slow track filled with powerful tension by the entirely unexpected dropped beats throughout. About halfway through, the song turns ominous and sad. Gloriously cinematic. These 2 tracks make for an awesome 1-2 punch.
The typical BFD 1,000,000 MPH offbeat jazz fusion treatment on tracks like "Selfish Otter" and "Lhai Sal" that you've come to expect from the previous BFD releases. Only bigger and denser now with the jazzy new band!
The wonderfully goofy Dick Dale/Ventures surf sound of "The Mystery Music". Again, the "Zappa style" big band arrangement (particularly the vibes and sax interplay) make this track a jaw dropper.
The great sax filled instrumental jazz section of the raw, rocking "Ragged Ass".
Then there's the wildly loose and freewheeling "Skull Bubbles" with it's almost "honky tonk blues in space" sort of quality about how MK's life is falling apart. I love the following lyric which seems so right for MK's station in the music world:
"When I was 7 years of age,
I learned the sweetest holiday song.
How the Hell's everything gone so wrong?"
Then there's the beautiful half Pet Sounds era Beach Boys, half Vince Guaraldi piano flavored "Friends and Family".
However, it's the closing track that really rips my head off. "Kedgeree" starts slow with MK quietly plucking notes on an electric guitar and quickly builds to a kinetic, bouncing track with a hypnotically psychedelic off beat melody. The track then picks up speed and and turns into a brain frying sideways Quadrophenia/Tommy flavored sort of rock/classical monster. The drummer does the best insane flailing Keith Moon impression I've ever heard here! The song then drops into a slow and surreal, decidedly Pink Floydian instrumental passage with a gorgeous and just-so-right guitar solo only to eventually come back around to an enormous reprise of the songs highly original and complex theme. A stunner. Really different stuff.
There's more, but my fingers are falling off.
At a full 80 minutes (79:56 actually) you would expect the usual problem of filler and while there are a couple of tracks that fall a bit flat for me, usually the simple and slow sentimental ones, but these are few and far between. That accounts for less than 10 minutes here. The other 70 minutes are filled with some of the most amazingly creative music I've ever heard. Keneally is channeling the gods here.
Progressive rock? Not really, no mellotrons or bass pedals here! It's only progressive in the sense that this music adventurously tries to transcend what is normally expected of rock music.
WARNING: Most of this music will probably fly right by you for about the first 5 spins. Give it's complexities and quirks time to settle and this disc will hook you terminally, like it did me.