Raygun! Raygun! is based in Canton, Ohio and was born out of a spontaneous recording session in the summer of 2018. The band’s two members, Clay Reid and Michael Bastas, found out that they had a knack for writing quick witted, goofy pop/art rock tunes that had unique flair. Their debut album, Welcome to the Greengate Hotel was recorded in Bastas’ basement and it draws on the duo’s shared interest in artists like Frank Zappa and bands like Ween, Ariel Pink, The Idle Race, The Beatles and The Beach Boys.
Conceptually, the album as the band states is “about a hotel in the middle of nowhere that is occupied by the strangest grouping of people and things imaginable. Subject matter includes everything from tacky jungle themed restaurants and stolen lamps to paranormal volunteers and John Carradine (who is definitely not dead) singing at his favorite karaoke bar.”
The album title track “Welcome to the Greengate Hotel” opens with light and playful piano and lofty, dream-like singing sandwiched between lyrics about John Carradine and his recollections about being a Prisoner of Shark Island. From here on out, I was thinking – yep, this will most definitely be a highly entertaining album. Next up you’ll hear a conversation between a couple of old farts who bark and holler about the “good ‘ol days” and how “kids these days” disrespect their elders and on and on. A circus-like organ can be heard too in this short number with a really long title – “Boy, This Elevator Really Smells Like Potpourri and Moth Balls.”
I was kind of hoping that the next song “Jungle Room” was about an actual room by the same name at Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion in Memphis, but no mention of it here. The duos’ creative use of the wooden xylophone sounds fantastic here, or are they marimbas? Oddly, this one reminds me of a cross between Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” or “Jump In The Line” and Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut.” Overall, the arrangement and production were really damn good and fun to listen to. Next, is a short melody that could pass for a TV commercial jingle in “We’ve Got Breakfast.” The band gave this one a vintage ’50-‘60s feel - cleverly done guys! “Pillow Mint Ghost” starts with harpsichord sounding keys, (which I feel is a poorly underrepresented instrument these days), in this song about a ghost who shares mints with guests he or she haunts. Their job is taxing and tedious as the lyrics suggest, but those mints must be very potent because “they freshen up your breath even after death.”
“Room Service” is well, about just that. The words are pretty simple and quite funny – “If you think you need room service, just pick up the phone” and while you’re at it, call for extra shaving cream for “YOUR HAIRY BACK!!” “What’s My Thing?” is a light, pop number with definitely a Beatles influence. But also, it had that extra something about it which reminded me of Jim Henson’s The Muppets Show.“Bob Lemonschonce” is another one of the band’s cleverly written jingles, advertising the Greengate Hotel with its “fully functioning gym” and “health center” – all to promote “HEALTHY LIVING.” “Growin’” features a MIDI electric beat and low, brooding singing. Part of this one felt Zappa-like, but also, if you’re familiar with Devo’s lesser known songs, the electronic music was reminiscent of their style, too.
Lastly, “Goodbye from the Greengate” features a feel-good pop vibe and more hilarious words of advice and farewell – “We still have your credit card information / We won’t refrain to add a charge if you took something / Like our lamps…. we’re serious.” In the end, this is truly a concept album with cohesion throughout, make no mistake. Sometimes concept albums can get a little too serious and “way out there” for some listeners. But this is not one of them. For me, it was pure joy to listen to this two-man band from Ohio who write fun songs and catchy melodies inside creatively written arrangements. Music need not be traditional structures of well-worn guitar chords and familiar rock n’ roll rhythms. Raygun! Raygun! proves that on Greengate Hotel.
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