(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
Ever get in the mood for something completely different? All the time..you say? Well then, today just might be your lucky day! And then again, you could go out and get hit by a truck just to prove me wrong. In any event, I wanted to let you know about this interesting CD that was sent to me recently from PE member, DesignShed. Some of you know Troy, some of you hate him. Chances are that if you’ve been a member of Progressive Ears long enough, he’s probably criticized something you liked and gotten you quite riled up. So, for all of you that want to get back at him, get your shotguns out now. This’ll be like shooting 50 ft. clay pigeons at close range.
Before I get down to the silly business of describing the music let me tell you a little story. Troy titled his self-produced CD-r Lactater-Tots and when I first saw this in conjunction with the artwork, I laughed pretty loud. My sister was in the room at the time and asked me what was so funny, I knew if I told her what I was laughing at she probably would have looked at me like I was a ready for the insane asylum so I quickly came up with: "Look, it's an 8-track! I haven't seen one of those in years!" She still probably thought I was a drooling lunatic. Oh well.
For me, what stands out most on here is the vocals. Troy employs a very 80s-ish psychotic singing/talking style similar to Stan Ridgeway of Wall of Voodoo, Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh or even Fred Schneider from The B52’s. I played this for a friend of mine at work and he thought it sounded like Flock of Seagulls. I didn’t really make that connection as much but I guess it’s a valid comparison. There’s also a good deal of vocal effects, including some very cool vocoder simulation. The music on most of the disc is a plodding keyboard/drum machine combination that evokes a primitive cave-painting atmosphere. Simplistic but also very effective, it reminds me somewhat of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic or The Residents trying to play it straight. He uses some very cool vintage synth sounds, especially on the opening track “Space Junk”.
Another really interesting aspect of this project is the lyrics. There are lots of silly obscure references to things like the Chrysler Cordoba, Shemp Howard and Styrofoam (remember that stuff?) During the song “Suburban Tiki”, he name-drops Arthur Lyman – score yourself an extra five points if you know who that is.
To be honest, I really like this stuff. It’s a refreshing change of pace from most of the all-too-serious “progressive rock” that gets sent in to be reviewed. It’s obvious that this is just a fun little hobby for Troy but I think with a little glue and some Scotch tape his music could find it’s niche in a stagnant industry. If any of what I’ve said has you scratching your head and thinking to yourself, “I don’t want to get hit by a truck,” you may just be able to enjoy this as well.
To get your own copy of Lactater-Tots don’t go down to your local music store, they are not hip to this stuff yet. I’d suggest sending Troy (a.k.a. DesignShed) an email or a private message telling him you are from the planet Zarg and request an audience with our planet’s leader and a copy of The Van Allen Belt disc. I’m sure he’d be more than tickled to accommodate you.
(All Album Reviews by Epilepticgibbon)
The Van Allen Belt is better known to me as one man, Troy Paiva, a graphic designer and amateur musician who happens to be a member of a couple websites that I belong to: MacJams.com and this one. On the latter Troy reviews CDs and debates with other progheads, and on the former he posts his idiosyncratic music, and in fact that's where I first heard and enjoyed some of the tracks from this album. To be honest, he's one of my favourite artists on MacJams and I was really hoping that once he got together enough material for an album he'd release one. Well, I'm glad to say that with Lactater Tots that's exactly what he's done.
Given that Troy is a big fan of progressive rock, it wouldn't be surprising to hear evidence of that in his music, and indeed there are slight hints of 1970s Genesis and Frank Zappa. But for me Troy's music is unique, not influenced directly by anyone, which is not something I'm able to say very often. Yeah, there's a nod to the storytelling of Gabriel and Zappa, and occasional keyboardy moments vaguely reminiscent of Tony Banks, but Troy's approach to songwriting results in something that is quite unlike anything I've heard before.
Troy's vocals also help to keep things refreshing. They're in a semi-talking/semi-singing style, similar to They Might Be Giants, Stan Ridgeway of Wall of Voodoo, and Fred Schneider from The B52s, and Troy is such a great vocal artist that he's able to slip into assorted accents and can seemingly move between creepily paranoid moments and comedy vocals with considerable ease. Troy's vocals are occasionally accompanied by those of Julie Paiva (Troy's wife) and they're rather nice too, reminding me a little of Barbara Gaskin's work with Hatfield and the North/Dave Stewart and Sarah Smith's work with Cardiacs and The Sea Nymphs. They actually serve as a wonderful contrast to Troy's, somehow humanising some of the more alien aspects of Lactater Tots.
And then there are Troy's lyrics, a blend of storytelling and William S. Burroughs/David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust era)-style stream of consciousness, including freaky but comic references to styrofoam, virgin sacrifices, Marty Feldman, and three-headed sheep.
Musical highlights include the distinctive staccato rhythm, cool solos and crazy lyrics of opener “Space Junk”, the excellent instrumental “Creeper” which makes me think of John Carpenter soundtracks, early Björk (without her vocals, obviously) and Depeche Mode, the cute, catchy melody and tribal rhythm of “Suburban Tiki”, the bewitching vocal combination of the two Paivas on “Sleepwalk” and “Styrofoam”, and “Hyperion” which sounds like the theme to some kind of Wild West ghost story in space.
At a time when most prog rock is just rehashing what's gone on before in increasingly stale and safe ways, and doing it oh-so-seriously too, Lactater Tots sounds as fresh as a dasiy, and Troy has thankfully got his tongue firmly in his cheek.
Best tracks: “Space Junk”, “Creeper”, “Sleepwalk”, “Suburban Tiki”, “Hyperion Rag”, “Styrofoam”.