Friday, February 19, 2010

Banana Head - In the Tubs [Goaty Tapes]

Word on the street is Goaty Tapes CEO Zully Adler is Banana Head though there's no mention of it anywhere on the tape. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from a project called Banana Head, to be honest my immediate thought was a hybrid of Buckethead and Melt Banana--though I'm pretty sure that's all due to word associations, as it turns out this debut is a half hour of slo-mo, downer surf music. Though, when I say surf I mean in vibe (lotta reverb, lotta tremolo) rather than songwriting.
"Desk Man" kicks off the tape with a repeated string-bending lick, dimly lit organ and indecipherable slurred vocals. The thing you immediately notice is how slow everything is, it's like an obscure rock n roll 45 played at 33 and somehow without percussion. It's very patient and leisurely without being ethereal or "psychedelic" which, having watched the decent but very bland Moon Duo last night, I'm finding especially refreshing today. Adler caps the track with a very nice bridge at the end. "Desk Man" lays out the album's aesthetic pretty clearly and the title track follows it pretty closely other than being half the length. This jam stands out more and more each time I listen, it's anchored beautifully by a wobbly, detuned blues riff with even more sloshed vocals and organ fluttering about. It's basically one verse like a Madvillain song but definitely successful and one that gets stuck in your head. The immediate stand-out for me was "Phone Call" and I still feel like it's the best song of the album. It packs the strongest emotional punch, not so much from the lyrics cause I don't know what the hell they are except maybe "holding on," but from the melody and passion behind the voice. It also marks the first instance of percussion on the tape: an occasional snare/drum tambourine hit. I took In the Tubs in my Walkman one day and it was amazing how this song (and the cassette in general) made the world seem so serene. It's just a really great song, fantastically well-written first of all and the performance is remarkable. The most perfect and affecting presentation of the Banana Head aesthetic so far, I hope he's got more in him. Wisely, it's followed up by another of the tape's best songs, "You're Mine." Adler's voice is clearer here and damn, either there's pitch manipulation going or this dude can reach some lows. There's a nice rhythmic swing to the track and it's another well-written, well-realized melodic piece with a great guitar fill that just makes the song. "Eat to Death" is another strong one (okay, pretty much all of the songs here are strong) with a well-placed organ part and brief guitar lead. I appreciate that Adler uses his voice as a melodic tool rather than just singing for the sake of pop convention.
"Gang Toughs" (killer title) takes over on the b-side and it kicks on the fuzz for the first time on the record. Adler has really mastered the skill of the "chord change" he navigates between repetitive two-chord progressions and more elaborate combos like nobody's business, finding a way to get the absolute most out of each chord he plays. "The Sisters" is another shorter one, bringing back the organ which sounds almost like a slowed-down siren or something. The arrangement of another favorite, "Monday" nearly buries Adler's voice; he sounds like someone singing deep down in a cavern and what you're really hearing are the long-resonating echoes. "Take it Back" closes the tape in minor key, downer fashion though it somehow sounds a little more immediate despite being essentially the same tempo.
My only criticism of the tape is small. I may just be a conventionalist but I feel like an uptempo number or two would provide a little (beneficial) variety and also I'm just very curious to hear an uptempo Banana Head song, I personally think it would be awesome.
All in all, though, In the Tubs is a really rich tape of which I've been slowly peeling back the layers listen after listen. It's not that what Adler is doing is especially complex in a technical sense, but the songs slowly get their claws in you though you're none the wiser. It was around the third or fourth listen I began to realize (and was surprised by) how well I knew all the songs. Their hooks are unassuming but the songs just manage to seep inside you and stay there. It's a really excellent and, in its way, exciting piece of work.
Still in print. Goaty makes perhaps the nicest looking tapes of anyone so there's no good reason to not check this out.

No comments: