They Missed The Perfume
by Bryan Rodgers
I am a huge Disco Biscuits fan. It is necessary to get that on the record for a review such as this. Not to say that I can't be critical of The Biscuits; anyone who has read reviews or comments on the band's listserv knows that the most smitten fan can also be the most vicious when it comes to the music. So it is with great pleasure that I announce to you, the music buying jam freaks, that this is one kick-ass album, and well worth the 2-and-a-half year wait.
Fans of the Biscuits wide-open live shows will quickly love this disc, because it provides a clear glimpse into what the Biscuits would sound like on stage if they each had 4 arms. The patience and thought that obviously played a huge part in this album is evident via well-timed (but not obnoxious) overdubs, sparkling vocal harmonies, and the ever-present thematic swoops that make the Disco Biscuit's music so grand and orchestral. The delicious lilt of "Highwire" opens the disc, and if there was a Bisco song ready for the radio, this is it. A serious collage of intertwining sounds driven by the powerfully subtle bass of Marc Brownstein bubbles under Jon Gutwillig's initial cry of "There was no way out," but the negative feel of that lyric is immediately bested by joyous, dreamy lyrics about being 5 years old, and, well, dreaming of touching the sky.
The positively robotic vocal breakdown and delirious climax that follow show that the band has found a way to get all their ideas in a song without compromising quality. Incidentally, the music for this song surfaced in live shows, and the particular progression was dubbed "The Big Happy" by fans. So here you go Bisco freaks, "The Big Happy" with words! The next track, "spacebirdmatingcall," promises to be an ambient collage of android animal sounds for about a minute, then drummer Sam Altman glides a nifty, galloping beat underneath, Gutwillig's guitar drifts in from above, and lyrics surface, dotted with the same soaring, skybound imagery that dominates the album. Keyboardist Aron Magner has refined his synthetic sounds into colorful swirls, neatly flavoring each tune with crafty beeps and boops.
The true meat of the album is a 30-minute chunk right in the middle, comprised of "Haleakala Crater," "Home Again," and "Mindless Dribble." "Haleakala's" watery opening sequence could double as music for massage. It's music therapy for fans of intense improvisation. The lyrics, inspired by the famous Maui Wonder of the same name, twirl deftly around a slowly building composition driven by Gutwillig's masterful progression on guitar. Things really start to accelerate at the 7-minute mark, where the band is enjoying an astoundingly bouncy jam, complete with bells and whistles. Some darker sounds a minute later signal an impending eruption, and at 9 minutes, the "Crater" hurls out a fireball of a jam that would make even the most jaded Biscuits fan rewind and be awed. If they were attempting to capture the intensity of the live show, they did it with this jam! For "Home Again," the band once again combines their wealth of ideas into a gorgeous tune, and the same feel of optimism and longing for paradise helps drive this tune solidly into the theme of the album.
The ending section, vocally comprised pleas of "I wanna go home" layered with the steady proclamation of "Never had a home like this," is all you would need to prove that this band has far exceeded expectations on this disc. It's simply the calm before the storm though, as the fan favorite and live staple "Mindless Dribble" lurks menacingly just one track away. The beginning of this song has a different, dance-floor feel than the live version. Much of the drums on this album are synthetic and precise, and it is a great relief that the use of such technology did not remove the Bisco funk from the music. The band creates an appropriately insane atmosphere for the chorus, which is nicely accentuated with several vocal harmonies. This song contains bizarre-yet-cohesive lyrics that are possibly the most intriguing thing on the disc. It seems as if the words mean nothing at first, but a quick peek at the lyrics reveals a truly thought-provoking song. After the lyric section is over, the song cliffdives into an almost reggae mode, played as deliberately as possible and with more than enough hypnotic effect and nice, thick, timely bass. The ensuing jam is a testament to the statement "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture"; I couldn't possibly put this patient, tasteful jam into words. The disc will be available by the time you read this...just enjoy.
The last track, "I Remember When," is basically a continuation of "Dribble," with definite teases of the pounding drumbeat and creeping melody. The album draws to a close with a loopy, video-game-on-psychedelics jam that nearly rivals "Highwire" in it's sunny sound. The Disco Biscuits have created their first true work of art. The hundreds of live gigs have allowed them to explore their possibilities, and the adversity they faced in early 2000 has brought a more mature, more discerning band to the surface.