With a career covering four decades, this highly listenable outfit, formed in Michigan but now Washington based, is currently a duo featuring returning founder member Steve Kretzmer and James Strain, who joined in 2019. Over the years they have given us some highly esoteric musical treats, and The Strainge Case of Steve, surprisingly only their eighth album in all that time, is no exception. Complex compositions imbued with a great sense of fun allow the intrepid duo plus a highly skilled supporting cast to weave keyboard-led magic across sixteen (count ’em!) tracks and nearly 78 minutes on a caravan of dreams.
Fat Delivered gets things off to sprightly start, its upbeat tempo driven by the familiar Hammond sound – at least, that’s what I assume it is, one can never tell in this age of electrickery. Combining Zappa-like arrangements with Caravan’s sense of melody brings forth the best of both worlds on a delightful little ditty like A Race Against Time. Over and Out is three minutes of mad syncopation that puts The Sorcerer’s Apprentice to shame, and ties yer noggin in knots trying to keep up with the unfathomable time signature shifts. Marvellous stuff! The Odor At Tavistock from the title alone sounds like it belongs on a Viv Stanshall album, spelling notwithstanding… heheh. The old Canterbury bands loved mucking around with song titles – who could forget Fitter Stoke Takes A Bath? – and Rascal Reporters take much glee in the ability of an instrumental to be called anything it damn well pleases.
If comparisons must be made, then the equally iconoclastic but highly enjoyable Mats-Morgan spring to mind. Also it would be too easy to say “Caterburyesque” as although there is a healthy dollop of that influence there, you will also find their own take on off-kilter larking about popping up all over the place, as on such oddities as Lady and the Old Codger, which has added vituperative enunciations from Penelope Lovelace.
How Archontic the Ankle Biters lives up to its odd title with some highly agitated beats driving piano and synths as it snaps at you down at ground level. I’m not going to look up “archontic”, assuming it is a real word that is, and then pretend I knew what it meant all along, it just sounds right to me!
Back on to the silly track titles, we have Love is A Dead Smelly Fish – haha, really?! This little ditty is a highly complex toe-tangler of impish dexterity that will have you scratching your head in bafflement in the same way that quite a few Zappa tunes turn your synapses inside out by the time they end. Yet somehow, it all makes perfect sense.
The other tune on here with words, nay, actual lyrics, qualifying it as a song no less, is Uh Oh (Lait Suspendu Fermenté). I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what that means? The lyrics and vocals are by Jessica Martin Maresco, who does a sterling job of weaving her words around another tune that shifts about through time signatures like a restless puppy dog.
Having softened us up over the previous hour or so, Rascal Reporters assume we are ready for some intense therapy, as The Strainge Case of Steve ends with its two longest tracks. Guns for Clones features Univers Zero’s Guy Segers on bass, and is a fleet-footed tune that despite its complexity is strangely calming, and takes us on a journey over hill and across dale. People Who Eat People starts abruptly as if it has already been playing for five minutes and is a quite delightful multi-faceted keyboard excursion that disappears over a far horizon to who knows where. A fabulous way to end the album.
When this rather long album is over, you’ll feel like you’ve been put through a musical spin dryer, but that’s not a negative comment, at all. It’s a head cleaner of some merit. Right, time for some Ramones, methinks!
01. Fat Delivered (4:59)
02. A Race Against Time (2:39)
03. Papa Norco (4:58)
04. Beetle Borscht (5:15)
05. Over and Out (3:05)
06. The Odor at Tavistock (4:33)
07. How Archontic the Ankle Biters (8:22)
08. Lady and the Old Codger (2:26)
09. Unknowable (5:14)
10. Love is A Dead Smelly Fish (4:34)
11. I Cries Crimes (3:56)
12. Uh Oh (Lait Suspendu Fermenté) (3:39)
13. Groom of the Stool (3:32)
14. Lurking in Shadow Fury (3:41)
15. Guns for Clones (7:43)
16. People Who Eat People (8:53)
Total Time – 77:30
Steve Kretzmer – Organ, Electric Piano, Piano, Clavinet, Synths, Choir, Programming, Arpeggiators, Sound FX
James Strain – Fretted & Fretless Basses, Drums, Lead Guitar, Melodica, Piano, Electric Piano, Organ, Sitar, Programming, Beats, Samples, Bass Synth, Sound Collage, Gamelan (Gangsa), Acoustic 6 & 12-string Acoustic Guitar, Fake Horns
Dave Newhouse – Horns, Woodwinds (tracks 1 & 9), Saxophone (10)
Dario D’Allessandro – Guitar (tracks 1 & 11), Additional Synths (9 & 11)
Penelope Lovelace – Vocals, Words (track 8)
Guy Segers – Bass (track 11)
Kimara Sajn – Additional Bass (track 11)
Jessica Martin Maresco – Vocals, Lyrics (track 12)