Prolific producer, composer, Grammy nominee, CEO and 25-year veteran bassist with New Hampshire’s Dreadnaught (a band who I have thoroughly enjoyed in recent years), Bob Lord has found the time to release his first solo album. Playland Arcade is a distillation of the various strands of Bob’s muse, combining dextrous prog, the orchestral compositions of his work with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, retro pop and improvised jazz, with a wacky side-helping of the bizarre.
It’s a scattershot amalgam of disparate inspirations and ideas; there is no real thread through this, it’s a question of opening yourself up to Bob’s weird and wonderful cornucopia of delights, all deliciously played and presented. The production is first rate, and having a full orchestra available for various parts is handy too. In fact, it’s the half dozen tracks upon which they feature that act as the gravitational glue to hold the whirl of other pieces in orbit.
Bob features on bass and keyboards throughout, with bits of vocal, percussion and programming thrown in, supported by a bunch of friends on drums and percussion (largely Jamie Perkins of The Pretty Reckless), guitar, flute, keys and violin, the head-spinning whole coloured with sound effects.
The inspiration comes from fond recollections of childhood visits to New Hampshire seaside resort of Hampton Beach, taking in “the sights and sounds of what was always to my young mind a satisfyingly strange, surreal, and sensational experience”. The Playland Arcade continues to be a favourite place for Bob, but the restrictions of the summer of 2020 made it the first in many years where he was unable to visit. This album is a refraction of memories of the garish delights to be had among the video games and seaside attractions. Having grown up in a seaside town myself, I’m familiar with the appeal of the arcades, the lights and sounds drawing you in to hungrily search for discarded coins, facilitating just one more fix of a favourite game. Kids today just wouldn’t understand…
The nineteen generally instrumental tracks take in blink-and-you’ll-miss-them punctuations (the shortest being all of seven seconds, half a dozen not reaching a minute), brief orchestral showstoppers and various other diversions to remind of your day at the Beach. It’s a smorgasbord of detail and delights, at first unsettlingly fast moving, but when you acclimatise there’s lots of melody and plenty to enjoy. All of it ultimately “fits”, delicately garnished with a sophisticated spice of weirdness.
Fry Doe and Siege bookend the album as complementary pieces, Cuban percussion added to nice effect. Lord’s bass is prominent and the opener struts along on treated guitar from Band of Heathens’ Ed Jurdi. The closer is a video game with a driving rock feel, Hammond soloing with synth chords slamming into game bleeps.
In between are tracks of orchestrated (often quite literally) madness, from Dreadnaught-esque rock, electronics flavoured rhythms and sometimes twangy, sometimes edgy guitar workouts, driven along by the pleasing sound of a real drum kit. The brevity of the arrangements is admirable. Yo Soy Miguel is an insistent rocker, the album’s only lyric being a stoic repetition of the song’s title. Duane Eddy cover The Backward Swan is ’60s surf rock, while Air Hockey is a non-frenetic solo Wurlitzer piano piece from Duncan Watt, suggesting that the game resulted in a sound and hovery thrashing.
There’s even an interesting rendition of Walter Gross and Jack Lawrence’s 1946 standard Tenderly, guitar initially taking the lead, reflective and oddly romantic, refraining from cheesiness. Synth and Wurlitzer move in and it’s a quirky and strange dose of good old-fashioned melody, as we walk along a dreamy metallic beach. Mighty Forces is also worth noting, twinkling piano and synths arpeggiating in a cycling rhythm, intriguing and lovely. A full electro whirl sweeps in, the driving futuristic rhythm sliding sideways into Andy Happel’s lengthy violin solo.
The orchestral pieces are excellent, lovely vignettes scattered throughout like way markers. From noir cop show themes (In For The Kill) to cartoon-like backing from the glory days of Tom & Jerry (Lobster Roll) to sinister effects-augmented atmospherics in the Wild West (Wyoming Vice) to Aaron Copeland/West Side Story pyrotechnics (Fanfare for a Losing Team) to avant futurism (Last Word), they add another dimension and it would be nice to hear more of it. When band and orchestra come together it’s a well-realised mix, additional drums, guitar and galloping bass adding extra detail within the sharp and expansive production.
Playland Arcade is a fun and exhilarating listen, dynamic and very well put together, brimming with unexpected diversions. The melding of the old and new worlds of boardwalk variety that might have seen better days with the shining futuristic arcades (theatres of dreams and excitement for young thrill seekers) is palpable. It’s slick, skilful and compelling.
01. Fry Doe (4:02)
02. Hey (0:07)
03. Yo Soy Miguel (2:06)
04. In For The Kill (1:24)
05. Night Sweats (3:15)
06. Lobster Roll (0:35)
07. The Backward Swan (2:32)
08. Air Hockey (1:40)
09. Intermezzo (0:51)
10. Skee Ball (0:12)
11. Wyoming Vice (3:35)
12. Get Yer Drink Up (1:43)
13. Beach Pizza (0:43)
14. Tenderly (3:26)
15. Opening Day (0:21)
16. Fanfare for a Losing Team (2:38)
17. Mighty Forces (4:13)
18. Last Word (1:11)
19. Siege (5:15)
Total Time – 39:49
Bob Lord – Bass (tracks 1,2,3,5,7,10,11,14,15 & 19), Vocals (2 & 3), Hamond Organ (2), Percussion (2 & 5), Keyboards (3,5,10,14,15,17 & 19), Programming (3,5,12,14,15,17 & 19), Guitar (5), Piano (5)
Jamie Perkins – Drums & Percussion (tracks 1,2,3,5,7,10,11,15,17 & 19)
Ed Jurdi – Guitar (track 1)
Chris Dow – Flute (tracks 1 & 7)
Jon Wyman – Foley (tracks 1 & 19)
Eduardo Silveira – Percussion (tracks 1 & 19)
Josh Corrigan – Hand Claps (track 2)
Duncan Watt – Organ (track 3), Synthesiser Solo (5), Wurlitzer Piano (8 & 14), Foley (9), Hammond Organ (19)
Shaun Frenchie Michaud – Guitar Solo (track 12)
Chris Robinson – Bass (track 14)
Steve Ruhm – Drums (track 14)
Andy Happel – Violin (track 17)
Dayron Ortega – Percussion Arrangement & Recording in Cuba (tracks 1 & 19)
The Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Pavel Šnajdr (tracks 4,6,11,13,16 & 18)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 27th April 2021