April Fool’s Day Music Review

Tuesday, 1 April 2003

I saw Queens of the Stone Age and ZWAN last night in Normal, IL. It was a pretty good show, with two very dif­fer­ent but ca­pa­ble bands. QOTSA rocked out hard, ZWAN was more of a mu­si­cal odyssey than any­thing else. Billy didn’t talk to much, but it was ob­vi­ous he en­joyed the crowd. Paz Lenchantin, the bassist, has one hot body on her. and she knows how to move it too.

For April Fool’s Day I re­pro­duce a mu­si­cal re­view writ­ten by a friend of mine about a guy that lives in my sec­tion who doesn’t have a band. It ac­tu­ally in­fil­trated its way into our daily stu­dent rag The Observer.

Bulbous de­but from Blouse Puppies

By BJ STREW Scene Music Critic

Lester Bangs said rock is dead. Dick Rorty said phi­los­o­phy is dead. Harvard’s Walt Gilbert said mol­e­c­u­lar bi­ol­ogy is dead. Others have sounded the death knell of neo­clas­si­cal eco­nom­ics, of tragedy and soon, maybe, rel­a­tiv­ity. And that’s all well and good be­cause, thanks to the white knights of pop, medi­oc­rity is here to stay its fate is sealed.

But Chris Yanek cares lit­tle for fate and, God bless him, less for medi­oc­rity. It was out of the ashes of his A-ha cover band from whence this match­less artist cob­bled to­gether per­haps the most bril­liant as­sem­blage of for­mer K-mart employees/​musicians the world has ever seen. It was al­legedly on a pey­ote-dri­ven “spirit quest” that Yanek and ex-mem­ber Jay Mohr de­cided on the name “The Blouse Puppies,” an al­lu­sion to a campy, John Tesh B-side.

From their re­fresh­ingly post-fem­i­nist moniker to their cu­ri­ous, es­o­teric in­stru­men­ta­tion to their bul­bous Thin Lizzy-meets-Phil Collins sound, it is clear the Blouse Puppies have staked their claim as rock’s newest stan­dard-bear­ers. Some have de­scribed the Blouse Puppies sound as the Beatles, Jesus and Dolly Parton all rolled into one, so skilled they are in the nu­ances of mu­sic the­ory, in tech­nique, in Celtic folk­lore, in ground­wa­ter hy­drol­ogy and so on. Clearly, few have yet suc­cess­fully de­scribed the band’s unique sound.

The band’s of­fi­cial de­but al­bum, Derelicte My What, Capit n?, with its re­lease de­layed by Apple Corps Records un­til March 31 af­ter Internet boot­leg­ging, fea­tures most of the Blouse Puppies’ found­ing mem­bers: ex-Merry Prankster Bones Walker on the stand-up bass, Ben Ferguson blow­ing a mean sqinn flute, Nick Martin on elec­tric pi­ano and the im­per­turbably cool con­tralto of lead gui­tarist and vo­cal­ist Yanek. Veteran per­cus­sion­ist Lund Driftwood pounds sweet thun­der with the metic­u­lous au­thor­ity of Art Blakey.

Taking a page from techno group Prodigy’s play­book, the Blouse Puppies fea­ture the solo salsa dancer, Jason Cardella, tum­bling and frol­ick­ing in front of the group like some Chihuahua on PCP.

And the world ought to thank pro­ducer Mike Panzica. Because then, af­ter every­one thought the band had peaked, the big­wig Sicilian pro­ducer, in due course, had the whole band rock­ing dirty-blonde perms. Maybe a lit­tle over-the-top, per­haps a bit too retro, but be­lieve it the gleam­ing, coiled ‘dos are heartrend­ing in con­cert, as those 23 high-school­ers lucky enough to wit­ness the Blouse Puppies last week in the base­ment of a Motel 6 in Minster, Ohio can con­firm.

The ti­tle track opens with Yanek ul­u­lat­ing like a Moroccan wid­ower, ac­com­pa­nied by Bones’ novel har­mon­ics and Driftwood’s sonorous rum­ble, ques­tion­ing the ex­is­tence not of God, but of bad easy-lis­ten­ing. Many of the songs, such as “Prince Albert’ s Revenge” and “But It Ain’t Grey Poupon,” have a bouncy bass line firmly un­der­gird­ing the mi­nor-chord melodies. The al­bum ends with “The Rack,” a trib­ute to Janet Reno and her con­tri­bu­tions not only to the coun­try, but to coun­try mu­sic.

An avant-garde con­flu­ence of coun­try (Appalachian, not Nashville), free jazz, Brazilian trop­i­calia, klezmer and of course, clas­sic rock, their in­flu­ences range from Ornette Coleman to Bob Dylan to John Tesh. Vicious par­ody? Maybe. Genius? Undoubtedly.

The lyrics’ con­tent span a va­ri­ety of top­ics, in­clud­ing Yanek’s Icelandic boy­hood, the pit­falls of so­bri­ety, Dadaism and whale lib­er­a­tion. It is dif­fi­cult to say where the irony ends and the earnest­ness be­gins, so cagily Byzantine is Yanek’s verse. What is easy to say, on the other hand, is that no one would have pre­dicted it would take a mix­ture of sqinn flutes and golden perms to up­end the Lester Bangs Weltanschauung and fi­nally have a shot at re­deem­ing a mu­sic world in de­cline.