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Have you ever wished that your favorite bands could be someone else for a moment in time?
There is something of a tradition for this in popular music across the decades, with artists assuming alternate persona’s to allow them to create music outside the constraints of what their fan base expects. These projects can run from humorous to completely serious. In the 1950s, conductor Paul Weston and his wife, acclaimed singer Jo Stafford wow’d many with their off-kilter (and off key!) duo Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. Paul McCartney stealth-fully issued an album of easy listening big band arrangements of his 1971 hit album RAM under the guise of Percy “Thrills” Thrillington.
The Rolling Stones would sometime play club gigs as The Cockroaches over the years. Elvis Costello has released records as “The Imposter” and with T-Bone Burnett as “The Coward Brothers.” Heck… Neil Young didn’t even bother creating another face for his side projects, startling many fans (and his label) in the 80s with so called “uncharacteristic” releases like the synth-pop-esque Trans and the rockabilly gem Everybody’s Rockin’. And in the mid-1980s, England’s XTC raised the bar very very high with its Dukes Of Stratosphear recordings, an imaginary band that perfectly encapsulated much — if not all — of 1960s psychedelic pop and rock in one fell swoop, from The Beatles to The Byrds to The Beach Boys and more.
There are many others if you dig around a little bit into an artist’s history.
Arguably the King Of Alternate Personas, the leader of Guided By Voices — Robert Pollard — has a long history of creating often compelling new fronts for his music and outside collaborations issued under band names such as Circus Devils, Boston Spaceships, Teenage Guitar, Cash Rivers & The Sinners, Ricked Wickey, ESP Ohio and even under his own name. The latest in this grand continuum is called Cub Scout Bowling Pins which has recently put out its first full length album, titled Clang Clang Ho.
From the Rockathon Records website we get some insight into the album’s intent:
“Cub Scout Bowling Pins hop in the “Magic Taxi”, turn on the AM radio and time travel forty to forty-five years back in time. The project is mysteriously presented, but it’s a thinly-veiled alias of the ridiculously prolific and talented Guided By Voices. Minus the usual punk and prog influences, there are strong whiffs of bubble gum, psych and soft rock with sugary doses of ornate baroque pop. Long renowned scholars of rock, the Ohio players have occasionally worn their influences on their sleeves, but this time they seemingly have their jackets on inside out.”
In bowling terms, Clang Clang Ho is a total winning strike, no spares remaining. I first heard Cub Scout Bowling Pins on an EP the group issued earlier this year which came out coincident with a new Guided By Voices album (Styles We Paid For). I reviewed the EP at the end of my review of that album (I liked the EP as much or even more than the album, click here to read it).
Clang Clang Ho is a trip through familiar sounds put through a pop supermarket blender as only Robert Pollard could. There are bubble gum touches, very distinct Pete Townshend guitar textures, and vocal twists which evoke no less than Eddie Vedder channeling Buffy Sainte Marie (be prepared for a mad vibrato on some tracks that would make Bryan Ferry envious).
All this is constructed in distinctly Pollard-ian fashion, much like his print collages which adorn many of Guided By Voices’ albums — flavors and textures collide, as rhythms and song structures take surprising side turns. There are moments where little music tidbits jump out of the mix that are so distinctive I wonder if they might be samples — there is an electric guitar bit that sounds like something from a Buffalo Springfield track while another riff feels like a Pete Townshend reference (think how Pete was playing on John Otway’s “Louisa On A Horse”)
Some of my favorite tracks on Clang Clang Ho already sinking their earworms into my brain are the tangy neo-pop “Magic Taxi” and the hard rockin’ “Sister Slam Dance” which feels like some sort of mash up of Savoy Brown, Mountain and The James Gang by way of Grand Funk Railroad. “Space Invaders” has a baroque Harpsichord on it and strummy acoustic guitars with a melody at times which reminds me of Donovan’s “Happiness Runs”
“Competitor” is one of my favorites, a stop-start mini-rock-opera that takes you from Marvin The Martian tweaking out in interstellar space to a Grateful Dead moment into a thrilling Keith Moon-esque conclusion. This leads into the absolutely wonderful “She Cannot Know” which echoes Crispian St. Peter’s “I’m The Pied Piper,” complete with little flute-like hook signatures by way of Jimi Hendrix’s version of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower.”
Your experience may vary. I find Clang Clang Ho a whole lotta of fun to listen to. The vinyl pressing is just fine, dark black, quiet and well centered. Even though its no doubt recorded in the digital realm, you can turn this up — and you should — to appreciate its many textures.
Do you need Clang Clang Ho in your collection? I think everyone does.
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