When a band starts its set with a cover of Zappa’s “What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?” you know you’re in for a ride… or maybe a trip. Toronto-based five-piece Merc and the Montclairs describe themselves as “a cabaret of sound and genre” with “no one idea for too long.” That’s what they deliver on their debut EP Be A Galvo. Fasten your seatbelts before spinning it.
“What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body” throws us right into the deep end. Is it a kid’s song? Is this some sort of pedophilic Sesame Street? They start by marrying purposefully nasal vocals with a doo-wop backing track. After about eighty seconds, they let us in on the joke--literally--with a laugh section. The band continues into a funky bass/drum breakdown with acrobatic saxophone added by vocalist and guitarist Eli Speigel. “What is the Ugliest Part of Your Body” finishes with a raucous symphony of sound. Whew. There’s a lot packed in to three-and-a-half-minutes—and we have six more tracks to go.
Next up is “Me, With the Clandestiine” which starts with some white-noise synths and shifts to modal art-rock with cool chords and drumming against bass-and-guitar runs. Think Rush, but with more accidentals. Then Merc and the Montclairs switches to a lo-fi, thin-toned distorted guitar riff (which brought Cake to mind), before reprising the earlier section. The back half of the song marries spooky, dark tones against vocal screams, before finishing with the whispered “this is an exercise / an experiment.” It sure is, and it’s working so far.
“G.I. Joe” continues the prog-rock feel from the previous track. There’s some nice guitar interplay building to a wailing, wah-wahed six-string finish. “Chapped Ass” follows. The front half of the song is riff-based, with spoken lyrics--we are clearly not on Sesame Street anymore--around a short, screaming punk chorus. The tacked-on coda reminds me of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones: a ska-feel raveup, here with ripping saxophone over the top.
With “Strike Up Talk,” Merc and the Montclairs gives us an A section that’s dissonant prog-rock, followed by a B section where they break out an evil, Sabbath-like riff, all complemented by more screamed vocals. They finish the track with their take on a guitar-hero solo. The penultimate track, “Nightmare Fantasy Girl” throws us another curve. It’s an acoustic-driven folk number with lyrics that make us want to run away from the song’s subject woman.
Finally we have “Potluck” which is aptly titled. We start with a tune that could be a “lost classic” ‘70s pop single with cheery upper-register keyboards. Just when you thought you were getting a hug from the band, the song breaks down into a cut-and-paste of spoken snippets, like “Revolution No. 9,” but on helium. And, just to send us off, Merc and the Montclairs finishes with one last piece of angry, fuzz-guitar-riff prog-punk.
Be A Galvo isn’t your average fare. I could hear this playing at my favorite West Village record store, back before it went condo. Across the seven tracks, it feels like there are twenty different shorts crammed onto the EP. You won’t be bored. Give it a spin, but be sure to secure all loose objects beforehand--you’re in for a ride!
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