No, this is not music by one of the acting Baldwin Brothers, though it’s every bit weird enough to be. The actual members (none of them named Billy) are: Graham Albright (guitar/vocals), Davidson Weston (bass/vocals), Kamen Ross (keys/vocals), Cam Clements (drums) and Andrew Rahm (percussion) with guests on some tracks.
Billy Baldwin say their sound is “reminiscent of the greats, yet drenched in the waters of a new sonic world” which I guess means they get to fill up a LOT of tracks, because they certainly do! The band formed at the cutting edge of Boston’s Berklee School Of Music, which accounts for the cerebral, experimental bent to many of these compositions. As a working band they’ve toured North America, and this is their sophomore release.
This is the kind of nutty, speed-phreak prog rock I live for. Right away you gotta reference Frank Zappa, especially in his quick-cut “Only Money” and “Ship Arriving Too Late” mode. Then you can add They Might Be Giants (about 200 times faster), Zoogz Rift, Mike Keneally, Henry Cow, Crack The Sky… hopefully you get the idea! The album title reminds me of that classic joke placard you’d find in office cubicles: “Jesus is Coming (Look Busy).”
Like many indie albums I’ve heard lately, these guys like to absolutely saturate the “tape.” Look Busy is a blasting noise-fest from start to finish, where even the quiet parts sound loud. I’ve got no problem with this aesthetically (I even LIKE it), but it’s a shame that all the hard work and meticulous playing sometimes get lost in their hurricane of sound.
“Creature Club” opens the album with something of a trick: a gently-picked electric guitar and barroom piano suddenly goes sour, drums come pounding in, and suddenly all hell breaks loose. Aside from the usual instruments, they’ve added what sounds like a guitar sped up one octave, plus a glockenspiel by percussionist Karmen Ross. The guitars and bass have a jazz-rock feel, though no one melody hangs around for very long. Vocals are good but delivered in that smart ass funny-rock style. As warned, distortion and overload rear their heads with alarming frequency, but there’s a great song beneath all the noise with antecedents in a more grungy Queen.
“Go Curly!” again starts out quietly and amiably, sounding like an outtake from the Napoleon Dynamite soundtrack. This one waits about a minute to lay on the noise with insistent chorus hootings of “Go Curly! You can do it!” This song’s arrangement very much recalls Seeland recording artist The Rudy Schwartz Project, and again boasts multiple movements and changing levels of energy.
“Gusto (Subject No. 9)” adds quick stabs of English prog band complexity to Billy Baldwin's bag of tricks with a waltz-time circus music detour. Head-snapping changes are again featured here, as pretty much everywhere else. Wild backing guest vocals by the SoR Watertown Kids.
“Silly Songbird” AGAIN starts quietly before slamming into a wall of rock (I’m sensing a pattern here!) with majestic mock-oratorio vocals and an actual strutting, clucking chicken effect played on the electric guitar. Sneaky, engaging keyboard runs abound. “By The By” features stabbing guitar blasts with quick keyboard melodies surrounding out of control verse/chorus sections. If I’ve already said “head-snapping changes” let me say it again!
“Food For Tho(Ugh)t” has a highly amusing, conceited-sounding lead vocal: “I am what I am until I’m not / I’ll always preach what I’m taught… Like I’m not a nice guy!” “Je Suis” starts in a jazz-rock mode reminiscent of Steely Dan. Seven tracks in, and this is the closest Billy Baldwin has come to behaving themselves. For many people this would almost pass as a “normal” rock song, though with wild Flo and Eddie style vocals, it’s every bit as inventive and off-kilter as what has come before.
With especially nice lead guitar ornamentation, “Leonard Cohen’s Breakfast” is a fast (shocking, I know) tune with a killer hardcore guitar riff and mouthfuls of wacky lyrics, starting with: “Leonard Cohen’s breakfast is a cigarette with chocolate and cheese!” The drums play alone at the very end, and you can hear how well they were recorded.
“Do The Brouhaha” sounds like Pretties For You Alice Cooper meets Nirvana, especially with its “I cried I cried / Red Rover Red Rover / won’t you come over” lyrics. Fittingly, this final song is just as full-on and overloaded as most everything that’s come before, and peters to a halt in a halo of feedback.
To say this album isn’t for everybody is an understatement, but for those who can’t get enough of rock envelopes being pushed and recording norms shattered, this is for you.
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