Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was there ever any occupation quite as cool as being a music reviewer? (Okay, there likely were, but go with me on this.) You got CDs for free, a place in which to discuss them, and an audience that was invested in that discussion. Many things have changed. Now, it is easy to guesstimate that more than fifty percent of the music consumption from average listeners was obtained for free, on unchained and unbound digital formats. The allure of free music is not the same for the populace.
For the reviewer on the other hand, some things don’t change. We still get music sent to us, and for the scrupulous practitioner you are obliged to respond in kind. You don’t take without giving. Intentions are always good, and the stack of discs that are sent to you steadily climbs higher and higher, as does the guilt for having seriously bent your own conduct code, if not breaking it outright. The other awful part of this is that something really good could easily fall through the cracks, something that could use the attention much more than the hot hits you’re focusing on. A low tolerance for quirk assists putting possible winners low on the listening order, and I found the album title Homewrecker Spoon from Life in a Blender extremely quirky.
I received it slightly before Christmas 2011 and this review is appearing a day before April Fool’s. How’s that for foot-dragging. To make matters more harsh, the album is very enjoyable. Tonally it rests somewhere between late-period Talking Heads pop and late-period Modest Mouse pop, and a lot of that has to do with the voice of lead singer Don Ralph. Ralph has the quality of not being right on the note, but close enough, being in the ballpark musically to sell the song and be unique all at once, much like David Byrne and Isaac Brock. Ralph is the primary songwriter but is backed by an impressive group of musicians bringing very un-pop-conventional tones to the mix. You have at any given moment a horn section, banjo and mandolin, violin/viola/cello, and a nicely skewed musical perception throwing them into the figurative blender (pun intended) with the guitar/drum/bass standard.
Other influences peer from corners, but these are only assumed on my part. I will say that the kinship between Life in a Blender’s “Hoot Owl” and Skeleton Key’s “Roost In Peace” cannot be merely my imagination. Not a rip-off by any stretch, but the hurdy-gurdy, shambolic mood and the avian references certainly put a definite “maybe” on the question of whether one knows of the other. Important note: Life in a Blender has apparently been around for over 25 years, meaning that Ralph and Co. predate what sound like some influences, and may have been contemporaries of the others. I would not have known this had I not received my reviewer’s copy.
The disc starts with the unabashed pop tune “Go To Man” and immediately made my stomach ache a little — not because I was having a negative reaction to the song; on the contrary, it was because I took so long to get to the disc. This tune is fun stuff.
The last track, “Stranger’s Foot” has the most Byrne-Heads feel to it, and by the time I got to it I was ready to listen to the disc again, which is always a good sign. Another thing that plagues the committed music reviewer is the need to play on a one-and-done basis. You listened, you wrote, you moved to the next object in the stack. It is this self-imposed rut that causes so many reviewer-types to start refusing discs, rather than turning into mechanical critique devices that learn to dislike what was once one of the coolest occupations you could have. I will say this: had I taken that route, I would never have heard Homewrecker Spoon and that would have been a sad thing indeed. Don’t make my mistake.
Go To Man – Life in a Blender
P.S. Why “Homewrecker Spoon” anyway? Well, if said spoon wasn’t such a filthy libertine, the dish might never have left…and now you get the joke.
Homewrecker Spoon is available from Amazon.com.