Any album that includes a track entitled You’re a Libra…and She’s a Bitch is setting the expectation bar pretty high before the listener has even heard a note. Me? Arachnia, since you asked… . BYOB is the second album from this quirky and previously unheard Los Angeles band chez moi, arriving some three years after A Is For Ampledeed. The debut was apparently mostly instrumental, but BYOB sees the participation of no less than five vocalists. Unsurprisingly this sees a dominance of the song format, but none of these vignettes are restricted in their sonic adventures. You won’t find any traditional combinations of verses, choruses and middle eights here, oh no.
BYOB will take you on a journey through, modern prog, left-field pop, rock, jazz stylings, edgy avant prog, classical motifs, and just about every other musical style one could shake a clef at, apart from bluegrass maybe, although it wouldn’t surprise me if a sneaky reference is in here somewhere, one that only serious musos will spot. This is fusion music at its most unshackled. The initial construction of opening track Triple Cancer Moon, with its female led vocals puts me in mind of other USA acts with distinctive female voices such as Moe Tar and Bent Knee, but the tune soon takes its own path and establishes the Ampledeed template of melodic intricacy combined with lyrical wit and vocal dexterity.
Highlights, and there are many, include the quirky pop prog of My Plane, the sublime and beautiful jazz fusion balladry of Monolithium, a song that morphs into an effortlessly labyrinthine but nonetheless laid back instrumental excursion on a magic bus to the outer limits.
You’re a Libra…and She’s a Bitch is a caustic and cautionary world weary tale of a jaundiced outlook on life, ending with “She dies. Too many men between her thighs”. The lyrical theme cropping up throughout the album centres on a fear of the unknown, of being alone, and the melancholy air of being “On a rock forever, and connecting never”. Ampledeed do like a smidgeon of the abstract too, Steve Lied being a bizarre conversation between a Host and the aforesaid Steve about, well I’m not entirely sure, but Host loses his rag as “Steve ate entire turdogen (bird in a bird in a bird), but that turdogen was mine (turkey, chicken, duck)”. The parts in parentheses are crooned by a chorus which adds to the surreality. Oddly (or not), the tune is probably the most conventional on the record. “Why don’t you BYOB next time? Now get out! I don’t want to see your kind” says our Host in the payoff. Strangely strange but oddly normal, methinks.
There the two keyboard players in the band; Max Taylor and Alex Goldich, and they have have a hand in every one of the composing credits either together or singly, being joined on the first two tracks by guitarist Luis Flores. The various and infinite possibilities afforded modern keyboard rigs dominate the instrumentation, but not at the expense of some great vocal performances, and the occasional stellar interjections of Luis Flores’ stylistically many-hued guitar breaks. Complex music soars or stalls on the chops of the rhythm section and Isaac Watts and Aaron Munoz do not lack in any department, marshalling the strange time signature and tempo shifts with aplomb, without ever getting in the way of the top line. On six of these tracks Isaac Watts forms a one man rhythm section, as he is credited with both drums and bass, indicating that this may be a studio-only project?
BYOB is complex, and at times happily convoluted, but is always offering up unexpected twists and turns. Where one might raise a knowing eyebrow at a few very brief musical sections that play on obvious influences, for instance a lone short blast of Frippian arpeggio makes me smile, never does there come a point where one wears a permanent grimace in anticipation of the inevitable soon come Chris Squire bass run, or whatever over-familiar trope lurks near the front of the identikit player’s sadly restricted imagination. As time marches on it becomes increasingly difficult to produce something musically shiny new without lurching off into the periphery of listenability, as everything has seemingly been done, but conversely it is never a good idea to live in the past. Equally it is doing your muse a huge disservice if you pretend it never happened, and Ampledeed hit a happy medium bang in the middle of that particular see-saw. BYOB is not “new” but it is certainly fresh, and very much alive.
This is a party; leave your preconceptions at the door, and you’ll be fine, as long as you bring your own booze, or even bird.
01. Triple Cancer Moon (6:46)
02. My Plane (3:28)
03. You’re a Libra…and She’s a Bitch (5:43)
04. Garden Gnomes (4:26)
05. Monolithium (7:08)
06. I Will Not Wait (3:31)
07. On My Mind the Gap For Kids in the Hall of Fame By Fame (1:18)
08. Steve Lied (2:48)
09. The Space Between Your Face (5:12)
10. The Greatest Gatsby (9:49)
11. Muffin Man (6:59)
Total time – 57:10
Max Taylor – Vocals, Keyboards
Aaron Goldich– Vocals, Keyboards
Luis Flores – Vocals, Guitar, Cuatro
Isaac Watts– Drums, Bass, Vocals
Lisa Vitale – Vocals
Allie Taylor – Vocals
Aaron Munoz – Bass
Record Label: n/a
Year Of Release: 2016