With my ridiculous superstitious persona I have a habit of “awarding” myself a band sticker whenever things pan out at work. The truth is I have many of them, coming in with demos, promos, bought and exchanged CDs, but I only hang them whenever we have a large sale or secure a project. I only hang them in one place, my document drawer cabinet at work. The steel creature is getting a little filled up on the outside. The stickers are there for me to marvel and others to be shocked by the metal insignia. Stolen Babies will take the cake, the “warning” style black-letters-on-yellow-background sticker with “Stolen Babies on Board” language still having my coworkers off their hinges. Shock should be Stolen Babies, an Oakland, CA, band, middle name, as There Be Squabbles Ahead is a unique display of theatrical, phantasmagoric and freaky music. Notice the world “metal” omitted, but who is paying attention?
There Be Squabbles Ahead is indeed a quirky blend. Some songs, like Spill!, Mind Your Eyes and Tall Tales are edgy unabashed punk, female vocalist Dominique Persi screaming twisted lyrics atop of her lungs. But even in their most straightforward numbers Stolen Babies add piano melodies (Spill!) or make their punk progressive, with complex rhythms, profound bass lines and clean production (Tall Tales). Yet if modernized punk was the penultimate of this album, I would not be nearly as excited or pleasantly surprised.
Their clown makeup very much in accord with their attitude, Stolen Babies take us on a trip into a psychotic, silly, serious, gothic and super-eccentric circus. Their accordion harmonies (Gathering Fingers) or Mediterranean carnival procession overtones (Swint? or Slude?) could fit well into a marionette theatre. Strange and jerky rhythms, made by the snappiest bass playing ever, can develop into what I can only call a “theatrical riff” (Filistrata). This song is tango, march and everything else in between. The variety of styles dazzles. There is techno-pop here (So Close), but also nastier, metallic sounding Push Button, yet filled out with Bangles-like Egyptian melody.
Contrast is the name of the game with Stolen Babies. Psychedelic A Year of Judges has subliminal mushroom-induced whispers and vocals getting practically to the hardcore edge. Steady parade of Gathering Fingers goes to hell in a basket by the end. Jittery Mind Your Eyes is followed by The Gathering trip-rock in Lifeless. Percussive and superprogressive drumming by Gil Sharone can catch you by surprise when he turns in a double bass and blasting burst at the end of Tablescrap.
Quirkiness never means sloppiness on There Be Squabbles Ahead. Dan Rathbun (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) turns in a spotless production, utilizing accordion, trumpet, tuba, mandolin, violin, toy piano and some instruments I can’t even name. Rani Sharone is a bass-master, his upright bass having a place in a jazz band. I’d go as far as to say that he is the backbone of Stolen Babies, without his spine, this whole enterprise might have collapsed.
As weird as Stolen Babies is, their eccentricity is extremely tasteful and never over the top. At no point I found myself thinking that the music is unbearable. Moreover, There Be Squabbles Ahead has this strange addictive effect, as if you want to give it one more spin, only needing one more spin after that. Along with Estradasphere this album is up there on the list of 2006 good surprises by The End Records.
Killing Songs :
Filistrata, So Close, Swint? or Slude?, Lifeless, Push Button
|Alex quoted 77 / 100|
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