Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Like A Fairy Tale

I have been going backwards reviewing (read: praising) The Sun Sawed in 1/2 albums. I started from Bewilderbeest quite some time ago and have now arrived in year 1993 and the band’s first full-length release, Hot Feet For Monkey God. The name is certainly a hint of what you are going to hear… Also, people who have only heard the band’s more recent work (like Fizzy Lift and Mind Flip) and like to label The Sun Sawed in 1/2 as a power pop band might be a bit surprised. In my opinion, this album is not very power pop-oriented. I don’t really consider it power pop at all. However, this fact doesn’t make the album any less interesting. On the contrary, Hot Feet For Monkey God is an excellent album of psychedelic jangle pop. It is also very, very interesting in many special ways that I’m going to describe in this analysis.

The AMG review is absolutely correct about this album being like a quirky soundtrack to a fairy tale. Tim Rose’s lyrical themes from 1993 are quite different from his more recent work, indeed a lot more storybook-like. The album opens with The Lemon-Lime Forest, a song that immediately shows quite of lot of what this album is about soundwise. The way the saxophone is used as a rhythm instrument makes The Lemon-Lime Forest sound quite funky. With lovely background vocals added the song is a real delight. Still, it is just a warm-up. Soon follows Annabelle’s Book of Hours. It is simply so great, probably my #2 favorite song from the band and, in my opinion, probably the most bubblegummy SS1/2 song because the melody is clearly in some way influenced by nursery rhymes. Pepper Bear is another great song, irresistibly bouncy and features both saxophone and trumpet sounds, irresistible also due to its psychedelia and excellent dynamics.

Hot Feet for Monkey God is also quite unique in the Sun Sawed in 1/2 catalog because of the many lead vocalists. Four different people can be heard singing lead, including Tim Rose’s brother Ken (June, Mesmerized) who does a wonderfully sweet job. Tim Rose himself also sings a few lines in three songs. Saxophonist/keyboardist Dave Farver provides vocals to Grace. Not only is he like the best sax player in the world but obviously he can also sing quite soulfully!

The fourth vocalist is of course Doug Bobenhouse, the most gorgeous, sweetest, loveliest singer in the universe. Remember, I’m not only talking about men, I’m talking about ALL singers! Believe it. What is also amazing about Doug is that he has such a natural talent. It didn’t take him long to become what he is today - on this album he is only a few years past 20 and he is already perfect. Even if you are not the biggest fan of his boyish, rich, delicious sound, you won’t find a single flaw in his excellent performance.

The Carnival Ride is another of my favorites. The song is driven by acoustic guitar, Bill Yaeger’s energetic drums, and, once again, saxophone. The wonderful interplay of sax and vocals is very memorable. At this point it also has to be stated that the drum work on this album is overall impeccable. Towards the end the album gets even more psychedelic when the title track begins. Hot Feet for Monkey God is one of the SS1/2’s most intriguing songs. It is almost instrumental and it evolves into quite a samba in the end! The song is likely to produce most interesting mental images. The album ends with Enlightened, which I seriously think is one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful song this band has recorded so far.

Hot Feet for Monkey God is the most acoustic Sun Sawed in 1/2 album. The result is charming as well as elegant, and an album of carefully arranged songs. In some places the style leans towards minimalism and elsewhere more complicated arrangements.

The use of different instruments on this album brings out a great talent in the band’s 1993 line-up. In addition to acoustic guitars there are electric ones (with psychedelic riffs and solos) as well as keyboards and accordion but the woodwinds will probably steal your attention quite often when listening to this album. In fact, Dave Farver’s saxophone dominates some of the songs even more than the bright-sounded guitars. One of the most distinctive features of this album is also the use of china cymbal – to me it is not the first thing you would expect to hear on a pop album. The china cymbal, however, brings out certain edgy nuances that would not be the same if they were expressed in some other way. Talking about nuances, they have been taken good care of on this album. Every song sounds like it has been mixed extremely carefully. All in all, there are no unnecessary layers and every sound and every instrument has a meaning.

Another important thing about this album is the feel. Hot Feet is mostly quite melancholic which is clearly a part of the magic - although nothing could ever be too melancholic when Mr. Bobenhouse is singing. Melancholy and absolute sweetness are a winning combination. On the other hand, it is not just any kind of melancholy, it is a magical, mysterious feel that practically makes you want to turn off the lights and dance with the fireflies...

This album succeeds in capturing some of the most mesmerizing aspects of psychedelic music and it does it with style. Whether it is a moment of oriental mysterious feel, a gorgeous saxophone part, a sweet melody or a magnificent organ solo, you just might start developing a deeper appreciation towards the magic of psychedelic pop expression. That is at least what happened to me... Of course a lot of it is just indescribable – you have to experience it yourself!

The Sun Sawed in 1/2 on iTunes
The Sun Sawed in 1/2 Facebook fan page
The Sun Sawed in 1/2 on MySpace


Anonymous said...

Dear MF,
Because I see very few comments posted (and I don't want you to think your efforts are for naught), I thought I'd write to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog. Our musical tastes run in a similar line and I couldn't agree more about how great Saw Sawed in 1/2 are! And I too LOVE the Fresh Mowed Lawn CD and truly wish there could be a sequel. But when I listen to that CD I don't think of Elvis Costello - I hear Marty Willson-Piper of The Church. If you're not familiar with MWP, give a listen to songs like "Melancholy Girl" or "Luscious Ghost". I'd be curious to know what you think...

Eric, Frederick, MD, USA

Melody Freak said...

Hi Eric and thank you so much for your friendly comment! Great to hear from another SS1/2 fan. It's true that people don't often tend to comment on my posts but I don't mind. Maybe people are a little shy... I write my thoughts here because it's fun and I want to promote mind-blowing bands such as the Sun Sawed in 1/2.

I'd also like to hear another solo album from Tim Rose. Tim is such a creative guy and his songwriting keeps getting more and more amazing... I can't wait to hear the new SS1/2 songs finished.

Wow, Willson-Piper does sound a lot like Tim Rose! I haven't listened to The Church or MWP much but they both sound good to me - I like the jangly sound. So, I hope to check them out more properly. There are so many great artists to be checked...

So, who do you think Tim's SS1/2 friend Doug sounds like the most? :)

Anonymous said...

Hello MF,

I'm afraid the cheeky answer is Doug sounds an aweful lot like Dennis DeYoung - only better!

I can't tell you how thrilled I was to read in your blog that SS in 1/2 are recording again. Now that's EXCITING! I was also happy to read there's a new Farrah CD (at least in Japan...)

Have you heard the Tony Cox CD entitled "Unpublished"? It's easily my favorite CD from 2009.

- Eric

Melody Freak said...

When it comes to Doug, in my opinion, although there is similarity between him and Dennis DeYoung, there are also considerate stylistic differences. While Doug appears to be concentrating a vast majority of his vocal strength on sweet bubblegummyness, DeYoung is a grandiose hard rock singer who doesn’t aim for sweetness all that much. Because of this difference I like to associate Doug with such vocalists as Jez Ashurst (Farrah) and Robert Schneider (The Apples in Stereo) more than with DeYoung. All in all, I love Doug’s voice for the distinctiveness. There are surely lots of people who also like to express sweetness vocally but Doug is my all-time favorite. He takes the whole thing to a new level and I’m still totally amazed when I listen to him even though I’ve already heard him sing thousands of times on SS1/2 albums.

I’m glad to find out that my news about SS1/2’s return has reached someone. It may not be the easiest thing for a band to get back to people’s awareness after a nearly ten-year break so it’s really nice to help Tim and the band. They are WAY too good to go unnoticed!

I haven’t listened to Tony Cox’s album yet but I know probably should… I don’t tend to follow the latest releases very closely because I just wouldn’t have time to listen to them anyway. Often the best thing to do is to get to know the basics first – music from the past decades. I often feel like I haven't listened to anything yet.. Listening to new stuff is of course worthwhile, too. Otherwise finding stuff like SS1/2 would be impossible.

Anonymous said...

Dear MF,

I was really only kidding when I suggested that DB reminds me of DD.(I was referencing the fantastic youtube "Come Sail Away" clip.) I couldn't agree with you more that they are two distinctly different kinds of singers. In fact, since reading your last I've been trying to think who SS 1/2 truly compares with? The answer of course is no one because they have their own completely original sound. But if I had to pick a couple of bands I would say: Jellyfish, XTC, and The Format. All three of these bands have a certain quirky, decidedly upbeat, broad-palette, pop sound in common - which is why I love them.
I'm sure one of the reasons I've taken to the Tony Cox CD is because of the lead vocal contribution from Nigel Clark. Are you familiar with Dodgy? Along with Crowded House they are at the top of my list of bands I wish I'd gone to see while there was an opportunity. Another band I wish I'd seen is Silver Sun (which I mention because yes, I read your entry) and think they're first two albums are stunningly SPECTACULAR. "Julia" is probably my alltime favorite powerpop song & I positively adore the acoustic version of "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late". One last band I would recommend to you is a band from Canada called The Nines. Steve Eggers has an amazing voice & is a very talented song writer ... I'd be curious to know what you think of them?

Melody Freak said...

Hi Eric! Thank you for writing again. I really enjoy this exchange of thoughts, the first real conversation ever to take place in this blog of mine! Maybe other SS1/2 fans would also like to share their thoughts…? *wink*

I think comparing DB to DD based on “Come Sail Away” really makes sense. When I heard DD’s original vocal for the first time in March ‘09 I was like: “OMG, pinch me, is this guy (and obvious similarity to DB) for real?” And I was just as amazed for quite some time… It was a huge surprise to hear DeYoung’s rendition knowing that he was a singer in a progressive hard rock band. I never had heard him sing a single note before.

Which bands could be a good comparison to SS1/2… That is a very exciting question because there are many different ways to approach it. The way I see it, the Sun Sawed in 1/2’s career can be divided into three parts: the early psychedelic jangle pop era (Happiness and Hot Feet era), the second more rocking power pop era (Mind Flip and Fizzy Lift). Then, Bewilderbeest and Fresh Mowed Lawn can be seen as a third era, a more mellow continuation to the rocking era.

When it comes to sound and overall musical style, SS1/2 can be compared to different bands depending on the era. Finding suitable comparisons to the Happiness/Hot Feet era might be the most difficult part. Something quite similar might be hidden somewhere in the field of neo psychedelic pop of the 80s and 90s – I haven’t found many of those bands yet, though. For now, the best comparisons I can come up with are various 60s psychedelic pop/rock bands (such as the Beatles). Also, now that I’ve familiarized myself with Styx, I often hear influence from their music in SS1/2’s guitar/saxophone interplay and when the accordion comes along it becomes even clearer...

Melody Freak said...

When I think about the SS1/2’s power pop era, I still often end up thinking about one specific 90s power pop band: The Greenberry Woods. The reason might be that at one point I was very much addicted to Rapple Dapple and that sound/rhythm/harmony/riff/guitar solo/melody policy mesmerized me and got stuck in my head – at that time I was also just about to develop my opinion about the essence of power pop (that mysterious thing!). SS1/2’s general sound of Mind Flip/Fizzy Lift era could also be compared to, say, Myracle Brah and probably several other Not Lame/other bands.

SS1/2 have always been psychedelic, although the psychedelia was a lot more highlighted during the Happiness/Hot Feet era. Even though there are few power pop bands that, for example, regularly add saxophone parts to their arrangements, I think even 80-90 % of all 90s/00s power pop bands can be considered at least a bit psychedelic (It of course depends on how you define power pop..). So, SS1/2 are similar to many power pop bands in several ways but also far superior in many ways (and nothing about SS1/2 is inferior to other power pop bands). The things that make SS1/2 stand out from other power pop bands are the exceptionally high quality standards when it comes to songwriting, arrangements and many other things (such as lead vocals!).

Unfortunately, I haven’t listened to Dodgy much yet… Extremely little, to be honest. So many great bands, so little time.. The Nines is pretty much a similar story, I only have listened to one song properly. Based on that one song I’d say Steve Eggers does sound nice (Eric Carmen-esque?) and good at songwriting. Maybe I’ll write something about both Dodgy and the Nines once I’ve listened to them more… Silver Sun’s first album has been a huge personal hit to me, it is quite insane(ly catchy) stuff when you think about it… Comparing their sound to doom metal is not a complete joke. On the other hand, Beach Boys and bubblegummyness also have a strong presence in their music.

…Talking about bubblegummyness, I’ve come to find it one of the most appealing things in music. If music is not bubblegummy I sometimes even end up rejecting stuff referring to it not being bubblegummy enough… This leads me back to SS1/2 once again. SS1/2, in my opinion, is probably the best bubblegum pop band ever. Do you, Eric, enjoy 60s bubblegum music?

side3 said...

I am glad to see some love given to my favorite Sun Sawed album. "Annabelle’s Book of Hours" is my fav track from them. A really great chorus on this one. In my humble opinion, I have always though Doug sounded quite a bit like Glenn Tilbrook.

I have maneged to track down all of SS 1/2's releases, and none of them have disappointed me.

Melody Freak said...

Thank you for your comment, side3! It is a joy to have more SS1/2 fans sharing their thoughts here. Hot Feet is also among my SS1/2 favorites. I think it is my #2 favorite album from them (Fizzy Lift being #1), although it is kind of difficult to compare the first releases to the later ones - they are quite different soundwise.

I also love Annabelle's Book of Hours.. It is definitely one of the most addictive songs this band has ever recorded. The Carnival Ride is also a really strong 'best song' candidate from Hot Feet album.

I agree on Doug sounding like Glenn Tilbrook. They have a lot more stylistic features in common than, say, Doug and Dennis DeYoung. When it comes to finding counterparts to Doug, sweetness is a key factor...

Announcement to everyone: if you have more suggestions to answer the question "Who does Doug sound like", I'd be happy to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment here, or email me, if you like.

And yes, SS1/2 releases are all superb. It must be Tim's exceptionally high quality standards, as I already mentioned earlier. Plus, I really think the guy is a genius. It is fabulous that the entire SS1/2 catalog has now been released on iTunes. I recommend checking out the rarities there, too, I think they are all great.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the great comments. You are an angel!

-Tim Rose/The Sun Sawed in 1/2