Patrick Baker is best known for his time in the Trenton-based band The Semibeings, a group that he, brother Joe and songwriter Keith Monacchio used to make a significant wave with in the ‘90s. After the disintegration of that unique band, Monacchio and the Baker boys splintered into different musical hemispheres, feeding their writing styles with great big helpings of compositional experimentation. The Bakers went on to form JunkyGood and Monacchio formed The Commons. Both acts were engaging, and both made great musical contributions to the scene.
Baker continues that spirit of experimentation with his latest disc, Bird On Buffalo. Bird On Buffalo could best be described as maximum mood enhancement, at many times reminding me of the compositional vibration put out by God Is An Astronaut or This Will Destroy You. Patrick Baker And Beyond have figured out the art of aurally transporting the listener to alternative agreeable platforms of sound, vision and thought.
The disc begins with an upbeat, sunny serenade entitled “Floating.” Acoustic guitars, drums and bass round the bend at a bounce as Baker vocalizes his levitating stance on all things ultra light. This is wordless space folk at its finest.
“Stumbling Gibbon” is up next, and it’s an even sunnier splash into Baker’s infatuation with pattern-drenched texture. The breezy background “oohs” and “aahs” are smooth transitional ladders between sharp handclaps and mind-bending little acoustic string bends and electronic trills. This is music for my car, music for the office, and clearly music for the tiki hut on my private island.
“Breath In The Sun, Breath Out The Moon” utilizes many methods of sound delivery. Baker puts the listener into a trance with his plaintive, high reaching vocal melodies. Tambourines sizzle under pseudo sitars and hi-hat beats as Baker sets up his arabesque choruses. The song switches gears at 2:38, coming up in meter and choice of digitized and/or analog instrumentation. Acoustic guitars scuttle between steel drum symphonies and coded signal beeps, whirs and chirps. Once again, the voice is used as an instrument throughout, sidestepping traditional presentation and fitting right into this eclectic mix of nonstop sound.
“Saturn Phases” comes out of the hanger with hailing frequencies from ‘70s funk before coding hard into repetitive synth warbles and feedback-laced computer rage. Dark, hard angled and highly void of human DNA, “Saturn Phases” would be the right choice of meditative therapy in a cyborg lounge on Battlestar Galactica.
I love the fact that Baker has come to understand the hybrid relationship of lo-fi and top shelf, both of which can be discerned on this recording. “Sun Soaked” showcases Baker’s talent of compositional setup. From the opening guitar lines, I could see the path of this semi-psychedelic walk through the summertime netherworld. Delays clang into oblivion as Baker walks glimmering organs into a full cycle of repeat, adding string bends and octave-wide fret slides to drive home his tornado of return. The volume swell guitar melodies are Pink Floyd hooky and quirky good as drums and bass focus the meter. This is a song that requires more than obligatory listening, and after a few spins, I was still picking up orchestration highlights that I initially had missed.
Other disc highlights were the orbital Beatles coding of “Fly Legs” and the golden-hued melodies of “Soft.”
Patrick Baker continues the understated quality and compositional chance taking that went on in Bake. When I listen to Bird On Buffalo as a whole, it unquestionably takes up residence far away from other styles of the current trend. Not that this is trendy, but it exists in its own specific flavor-drenched world. Patrick Baker aims for his own personal success and hits the mark.
For more information on Bird On Buffalo and Patrick Baker And Beyond, head over to patrickbakerandbeyond.bandcamp.com.
Shawn Mars – Tales From The Basement
Shawn Mars is possibly one of the last hard rock holdouts in New Jersey. While most guys have moved on to hip, Americana groups and swell fedoras, Mars steadfastly stays in the sector of music that he enjoys. Shawn formed Mars Needs Women in the mid-‘90s, a band that released Sparkling Ray Gun through Warner Brothers. They toured extensively with groups such as Cheap Trick and received airplay on MTV for the song “Superhero.” Shawn also spent some time with members of Skid Row in the short-lived Ozone Monday.
Mars says of the experience, “We played some shows on our own, but then we were given an opportunity to open for KISS and Motley Crue. To play the same stage as some of the guys I looked up to in my youth was just insane.”
Ozone Monday recorded a full-length album, and one song from those sessions, “Born A Beggar,” which was co-written by Shawn, was featured on Skid Row’s Thickskin CD.
It was at this time that Mars decided to start taking his own chances again. Since that period, Mars has released several self-produced discs, forgoing the usual democratic process of a band and calling his own shots. His latest self-titled disc, Shawn Mars, is a culmination of everything he’s learned so far. Blending the solid analog sounds of heavy ‘70s with the commercially slanted presentation of the ‘90s, Mars ploughs through the current trends like a bull in a china shop.
A highlight on Shawn Mars is the Bowie-esque meets Great White texture on “And Then Some.” Mars’ vocals are tuned, toned, and loaded with dynamic challenge as guitars slash and burn before shifting into wah-wah-fueled pentatonic territories. Modulations, precision drum breaks and a down the center vocal sweet spot make this a standout cut from the get-go.
“Nasty Habit” is a song that almost got me a speeding ticket as I flew up the parkway. It blasts off with its funky, guitar-fueled riffage more suited to a Parliament Funkadelic concert than anything out there today. Mars heads into a well-placed bridge before shooting back into his soul laden, Lenny Kravitz verse pattern. “Nasty Habit” is frenetic, fast-paced, and loaded with tone. Two string bends tear all the way up the fretboard before Mars kicks back in, extolling the delicious details of his dirty little secret before heading into a string bending fade-out.
“Like Me” locks in step and pushes old-school Jersey rock swag all the way to Madison Square Garden. Wrapped up in a bluesy seventh chord vamp, “Like Me” travels through varying styles to wind up firmly entrenched in the listener’s mind. Mars’ compositional skill shines as he squeezes every drop of soul into verse, bridge and catchy chorus.
The guitar work is Les Paul goodness, switch-hitting from chordal statements to full-throated blues bends and pull-offs. If Mars has learned one thing in his many years of rock research, it’s that people recognize a copycat quickly, and he steers clear of most general comparisons here and on the overall 12 songs of this disc.
Mars remains a firm believer in tradition and Marshall-fueled tastes. His own stark comparisons of today’s entitled garage grunge generation to the days of wood shedding disciples of basement beginnings are relatable to many of us who still know that real music means much more than a scarf and some Converse All Stars.
To get the rest of the disc and the story on Shawn Mars, head over to shawnmars.com.