Tuesday, May 6, 2014

ALLIGATOR INDIAN
"More Songs about Animals and TV"
(Bleeding Gold Records)


Alligator Indian's title for this 4 song EP, "More Songs about Animals and TV", pays homage to the classic Talking Heads album "More Songs about Buildings and Food". While the connections between these two bands may seem strained at first listen, philosophically there is a connection.

Talking Heads were pioneers in mixing pop with the avant-garde, thus making high art ideas, like post-modernism, accessible to the masses. The now defunct super group's accomplishments today may seem petty, but back in 1978 they were groundbreaking. Talking Heads weren't afraid to add Caribbean congo with new-age synthesizers and searing punk guitar solos on their INCREDIBLE 1980 "Remain in Light" album (an all time favorite of yours truly). They were also not afraid to go country on their "True Stories" album (side note: If you haven't seen the movie, go see it right now ... it's a modern classic). Talking Heads could be disco, punk, rock, r&B, funk, etc., etc. This is mainly because Byrne is a fearless artist whose influences are all over the place. He was accompanied by like minded musicians with oodles of talent, but his brilliance stems from the fact he is able to synthesize all his influences into bite size accessible pop songs, thus exposing the world to new ideas and hence, making the world a better place.

Alligator Indian are able to effectively mix influences like Byrne, but they fall a little short in pop accessibility. This is because Byrne never really gets cathartic. Even on the weird punk classic "psycho killer" where Byrne sings about how he's "tense and nervous" and he "can't relax", or the universally relatable dance classic "Life during Wartime", Byrne never feels like he's out of control.

In contrast, the vocals of Alligator Indian are just barely in control. This is most apparent on the second and least successful song on this EP, "Corpsing". The vocalist sounds closer in tone to someone like Tori Amos. She is almost operatic. Accompanied by pianos and synthesizers that share resemblance to Mark Mothersbaugh's keyboard tone of the RUGRATS SOUNDTRACK, she is not as pleasurable to listen to like Byrne is. I appreciate the passion, but since the vocal release of Alligator Indian feels overly emotional, it takes away attention from the intriguing, subtle genre mash-ups occurring in the song construction.

The Cassette's opener, "Revar Yu Droem", works better. It cleverly mixes Gregorian Chant with a bluesy vocal repeat, all accompanied by computerized drum beats. It has kind of a "TV on the Radio" feel. This song uses restraint very effectively to produce a satisfying crescendo. Each element of the song builds off the last one until you have a contemporary pop gold nugget.

The last song, "Later, Data Dog", is perhaps the EP's most successful song. Here the duo mix and level off the operatic vocals with the computerized drum beats and the classical piano perfectly to make a contemporary digital pop ballad. It's somber, downbeat but not without a R&B rhythm in the background. Also, give credit where it's due - whoever is playing the piano is really, really accomplished.

Lastly, it's great this band experiments with elements of noise at the beginnings and endings of their songs, but they feel like afterthoughts thrown in at the last minute. The noise parts don't communicate or respond to the other elements of the song. They feel like ideas in and of themselves. Unfortunately, the ideas are half baked.

This band works best when they're doing what they do best, which is present old school vocal techniques and classical piano with contemporary electric dance beats. I feel bad dumping on Alligator Indian because there is a lot of T.L.C. in this release... and I can see the female vocalist of this band reading this review of being like "I sound OVERLY-EMOTIONAL? Go fuck yourself, Jack Turnbull! You call yourself a Cassette God?" ... But I just need a little more Je Ne Sai Quoi ... these guys are musically talented but their avant-garde experiments are bland.

Jasper Johns once said "Art is what happens when you something, and then you do something to it, and then you do something else to it." These guys have done something and then done something else. They need to do one more thing and then they'll be really captivating.

Check um out here - http://alligatorindian.bandcamp.com/

-- Jack Turnbull

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