It’s been almost a year since The Porchistas graced us with their musical melting pot of whiskey-swilling, barn dance rough and tumble wonderment. 2015 welcomes them back with much anticipation. Wielding a creatively diverse vengeance, the boys demonstrate that a bit of absence does, in fact, make the heart grow fonder, or, in this case, makes the inquisitor grow more curious.
The Porchistas first caught my attention from the display of their organically hewn zest for musical exploration. Absent from their image was the typical pomp and circumstance of poppy performance. In its stead was a direct and whirling communication of passionate resolve. An olive branch of intricate ideas wrapped in miles and miles of concise compositional inventiveness.
To be so bold as to quote myself, “This is music that lives in parallel to our daily life trek. Music that glides through creativity stoked excursions and myriads of intimate links made readily available to the listener. This is music with which to sip moonshine. Down in the holler, staking out the still and fermenting the components with an innermost back woods believability from this organic band of reality.”
Shoot It At The Sun is the next logical step in The Porchistas’ musical evolvement. Blending crazed, beer hall boisterousness with sound effects that would make Roger Waters sit up and take notice, this 13-song platter is a true jumping off point for the band. Shoot It At The Sun is a vastly different direction than their bar band sounds of yesterday.
The project theme is based on the inspirational exploits of Italian astronaut and Air Force Major Luca Parmitano. Parmitano holds the title of the world’s youngest astronaut to log a long-duration space mission, and probably the only one to drown nearly when his helmet started to fill with water during his second EVA. But the band goes on to say that this is dedicated to “all human beings, past, present and future who explore the universe in machines made by human hands.”
“The Garbage Corridor” kicks things off as the band slowly spins and drifts into a loose and stratospheric groove. Guitars strum languid and lapping patterns, splashing raggedly against stark drum and bass work as Sam Weller’s mission control synths, organs and effects turn the group into its orbital positioning. Lyrics chuckle, giggling sarcastically as the world’s repeated woes float weightlessly in front of our helmeted minds. As the catchy chorus aptly states, “When you don’t know what to do with it, shoot it at the sun.” This song is a lithium-induced concoction that reminds me of David Bowie’s 1970s timeframe. Using an infinite blending of humor, songwriting and the all too real problem of worldly consumption, “The Garbage Corridor” makes for a very poignant receptacle of dirt-encrusted truth.
“Grand Lilliputian” continues the band’s swing out around the actuator-fueled solar system of their Aimpoint. Using an impressive array of compositional dynamics, “Grand Lilliputian” chugs, winds and dips through a myriad of logical and diverse changes before hitting the chorus. Listening to this song is like being on an adventure ride through chasms and blind drops that take you from one to the next fascinating segment of surprise. Alan Smith’s vocals are assuring and strong, guiding the entourage through its journey of atmospheric surprise. At 2:50 the band roughs things up matching heavy bass and drums with a barrage of tube-fueled bluesy, raw rock and roll lead work courtesy of Adam Falzer.
“A Piece Of Junk” is up next and drives home the band’s orchestral talents. That’s how I would describe most of this record. This is not a collection of three-minute pop ditties born to please my little cousin, this is a powerful arrangement journey born from the influential giants. Launched into the aerodynamic afterglow of bands such as Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree, “A Piece Of Junk” jettisons unnecessary boosters in its quest for high altitude lift. I especially love the simple, guitar chord flourishes that hold with fascinating attention at the intro. Vocals are amicable, and group chimed. The drum work of Jon Riordan is the altitude control that allows the rest of the group to thunder centripetal force that culminates with a guest vocal appearance by Kelly Henneberry. Henneberry cuts in at 3:19 brandishing a powerful and melodically tuned set of pipes and taking this diverse tune to a completely different level.
‘Radio Balls” is a horn highlighted piece straight out of Peter Gunn and Johnny Holiday (Courageous Cat cartoon theme). Featuring the arrangement prowess of J.T. Makoviecki, Jovan Alvarez and Matt Schoenebaum (The Defending Champions), “Radio Balls” explodes brass and reed seed all over the listener’s core. The tune’s intro chirps with coded pings, ominous ground control to capsule chatter, and static announcements of impending…radio balls. The tune pounds into its ska blues groove via guitars and keys that tickle and pop like birds on electric barbed wire. I don’t know what Radio Balls might be (I believe it’s based off an Android product), but I’d watch out for them if I were you. “Radio Balls” is a raucous romp steeped in an original delivery and a very “ballsy” attitude.
“Moon Saloon” is another Makoviecki, Alvarez and Schoenebaum arrangement featuring the dripping vocal moxie of Catie Friel and Kelly Henneberry. The structure itself is no great shakes as it’s a standard 12-bar blues construction, but the band shutterbugs into the song and saves it from being just typical. Vocals, horns and rhythmic dynamics would have Cab Calloway hustling his coat-tailed shuffle from the grave. The middle-eight looks to feature a clarinet, which I’m fairly certain I’ve never heard from a local Asbury Park band. Trombone solos dance with guitar upstrokes, Gene Krupa drumming and finger popping upright. The choruses wail and howl, throwing out Boogie-Woogie World War II Andrews Sisters angst like a boss.
Skipping around the disc, I landed my escape pod on “Awesome Solar Rocket Ship.” This carefree ditty takes the band on a journey to a place where they can “Smile again.” This song features the hip 1990s influence of Blues Traveler and their hit, “Run-Around.” Upbeat and breezy, The Porchistas plot a course for the third star as they strum and grind into the chorus, throwing out sizzling countermeasures and spatial guitar work (courtesy of Adam Falzer) into the choruses and bridges. Alan Smith sings each song differently, and this is no exception. Smith shifts like an Arcadian on a transporter, delivering smooth highs and melodic dustings of solid guidance from start to finish.
“These Things” is one of my favorite songs on the disc. Perhaps it’s because it rings in that charming, old school Porchista back porch smoke, or perhaps it’s the influential beacons of Eric Clapton, Small Faces and George Harrison that rousts things up and gets my head nodding and my foot tapping. This is old-school rock and roll that sounds like it comes from an 8-track player. Once again, the evolving arrangement prowess is there, as is the addictive Crazy Horse guitar rust that I love. Gnarly and simplistic, Falzer’s six-string work breaks up in all the right places. Vocals, bass and drums pace deep in the pocket as Smith lays into the vocal chore like a man on an astronomical mission. You can hear the sweat drip from the band as they bang out hard-earned sections within this complex and brilliant tune.
“It’s A No Fit” rounds out this eclectic and inspiring record with a sense of humor. Featuring the waltzing, whirling Beer Hall Putsch madness of Ed Fitz, the band skips, arm links and oompahs from one end of the slop-infested beer hall blitzkrieg to the next. Call and response vocals yell and chant between urns of pilsner-inspired rhythm hops. If you want to cut loose and showboat your lederhosen sassiness, this is the one for you.
Special kudos goes out to Gerry Griffin, who not only plays bass, but co-produced the disc with The Porchistas.
Shoot It At The Sun was an expected standout from a band that I’ve come to embrace wholeheartedly. Combining an honest simplicity with a wicked talent for arrangement and construction, The Porchistas’ great new CD, Shoot It At The Sun, is the surefire money shot straight into that elusive, face turning solar plexus of musical success.
Catch The Porchistas at The Wonder Bar on Feb. 14 as part of the Mad Feather CD release show.
For more on The Porchistas and Shoot It At The Sun, head over to theporchistas.com.