I hope Mike Sary and French TV realize how difficult it is to review one of their CDs. I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I’ve had wondering what great things I’m going to put into this review. Ok, so what if that number is zero!? It’s still not an easy task describing this music. On the band’s previous CD Pardon Our French they tackled obscure 70s prog rock from France and produced an album full of incredible music. This time they’re drawing inspiration from a different source - this silly sculpture that appears on the cover. There are lots of other photos of it inside the CD booklet, or should I say poster. It’s an absolutely horrid piece straight out of an arts-and-crafts nightmare made up of a bunch of painted styrofoam shapes with all kinds of silly knick-knacks tacked, glued or tied onto it. The end result looks like some alien desert…oh wait, that should be dessert. Are you still paying attention? I didn’t think so. The picture collage shows the evolution of the sculpture from just a few simple balls to the completed work in all its tacky glory. There’s even a picture of a couple band members looking like they are praying to it.
So what does all this have to do with the music on This Is What We Do? Well, to be truthful, I doubt that much; but talking about it is just as helpful as trying to pin down what the group is trying to accomplish with these deranged songs. Their style is as if they’re taking fusion and pushing it as far as possible to the very limit and then it’s held it out over the cliff’s edge and…oops there it goes. The only problem is that it doesn’t fall shattering to an ugly demise but flies away gracefully leaving the observer to just gaze on in bewilderment. Ok, this description is no help either, is it? Well, they’ve been compared to Zappa and Rock In Opposition. That should get us in the general vicinity but honestly the Zappa/RIO comparisons only help to scratch the surface very little towards describing FTV.
Ok, it’s mostly instrumental (with a few vocal outbursts of pains and anguish in places) and there’s a lot of improvisation as well as complex composed sections. I hope that makes sense. Maybe telling you who created these melodies would help me out a little here, ok… Mike Sary is the mad scientist behind French TV and he plays bass. Chris Smith is the very accomplished guitar player who also plays violin from time to time. Warren Dale is the keyboard player that provides all the weird alien sounds throughout the CD, except for the track “My Little Cicada” which all the keyboard duties are taken over by Paolo Botta who’s also in a band called Yugen and played with FTV when they toured Europe a few years ago. Oh yea, before I forget, Warren also plays some wind instruments too; he’s very talented. The bass player is Mike Sary. Yea, I know I mentioned this before but if I repeat it my review will look a bit longer. Jeff Gard plays the drums. He’s got his own drum set. Ok, I was just guessing at that. My sincerest apologies if he’s playing rented or borrowed drums. He sounds like he’s good enough that he probably owns his own set. There are a few guests, namely Pam Thompson who plays trombone and Stephen Dale (I think he could be related to Warren) on trumpet. They both appear on a track called “Ska Face” but it doesn’t resemble much of the “ska” that I’ve ever heard except for the fact that it has a trombone and trumpet in it.
I could do a track-by-track description but just the titles of the songs like “Theme from ESPN X-Treme Cobalt Blue 4“ X 4” Bathroom Tile Installation Games” and “Look At The Bears! Look At The Bears! Look At The Bears!” really do better speaking for themselves than anything I could come up with. The only other song I haven’t mentioned in this review yet is the first song “Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously” and there it is. Now I can end this review with a clear conscience. That was pretty tough. Oh yea, one last thing: this album should not be confused with the latest McGill Manring Stevens album What We Do. Just remember the French TV disc has a This Is that comes before What We Do and you’ll be all right. Not to put down that McGill Manring Stevens disc, that’s good too.
In all seriousness though, this is an excellent diverse album and deserves to be heard. Like you may have gathered from this offbeat review, the band is rather unique in it’s own kooky way. This Is What We Do is FTV’s 9th album and the bands grows stronger with each release. Do check them out. It will be worth your trouble.