Eggbot: Father’s Day

Who’s your daddy?

Eggbot gets paternal, grows up a bit

Eggbot has always delighted in irony. No surprise, then, that one of Portland’s most puerile musicians has now released a disc called Father’s Day [this was Feb. 2007 – nowhere near Father’s Day].

From his stature (his “Eggbot Has a Posse” sticker lists him at 5’ 6”) to his mode of transportation (bike, all the time) to his love of crude humor (his web site features a photo of Eggbot fencing with a dildo), the Farfisa-playing madman is predictable in his unpredictability, like the oldest ever and most grizzled teenager (Danny Partridge, maybe, definitely not Keith).

He is also a treasure of the local scene and entertaining as hell. Luckily, he’s put out albums at a steady enough clip we never forget that.

His latest delivers everything his cult fans love him for: the rolling and vamped out left hand bassline and a hammering right hand busting pop chords on the Farfisa organ, paired with explosions of rock-solid backbeat from Tristan Gallagher on the drums. When Eggbot’s chorus-pedaled and distorted vocals enter, singing absurdities and lilting choruses, it’s like finding a long-lost stuffed animal in the closet. I think of him as a Beatles-loving pink bunny, really.

He’s willing to play it up, too. His opening track, “I’m Dead,” reliably repeats the title roughly 10 times and even features this pair of lines: “I’m the baby in the city … I’m the son you’ll never miss.”

Of course, he’s also “Queen of Nefertiti” and “the son of Alger Hiss,” an old soul that appreciates history. Who else would have dedicated an album to Maynard Ferguson, Arthur Lee, Syd Barrett, and Joseph Hill, four underappreciated musical luminaries who all died in the summer of 2006 and can easily be heard as influences on Eggbot’s style. Ferguson was a jazz trumpet player, and it’s always a little thrill when Eggbot busts out “Hobo Death Camp,” which features a trumpet so distorted it sounds like the tortured screams of some alien life form, and comes to Father’s Day after appearing as “Old Hobo Death Camp” and “New Hobo Death Camp” on 2002’s There’s No Denying the Existence of Eggbot. Here, I love how Jim Begley’s recording has the trumpet shooting between the left and right channels like a rocket through the sky.

Arthur Lee was the frontman of seminal ’60s pop group Love, one of the prime purveyors of the pop that has always been Eggbot’s raison d’etre. He takes the foundation Love and others poured and tweaks it, not to mock it, but rather to show that it is so strong it can withstand any number of deviations outside of mainstream taste. On “Belly Button Window,” we get a wonderfully simple “nah-nah-nah” lead in to the final choruses, but we also get lyrics like, “The mountains tremble/ Black clouds pass/ Jungle parts/ A monkey ass.”

Syd Barrett is Lee’s natural extension, and in many ways the link between Lee’s past and Eggbot’s presence. As a founder of Pink Floyd, he laid the groundwork for the psychedelic 20 seconds of Super Mario Brothers backing music that finishes “Aswaldo” (pronounced very much “ass waldo”). And then there is Joseph Hill, founder of Culture and advocate of the “International Herb.” Eggbot may not worship Haile Selassie, but his albums sure do sound better one spliff later.

You don’t have to be stoned, though, to notice that Eggbot has obtrusively added the electric guitar to his repertoire, and uses it to pay tribute to another hero, Jim Hendrix, with a stirring instrumental, “Hendrix Jazz Jam,” that features a ripping solo right off the bat. Just the fact that there are two instrumentals on the disc shows an appreciation for the likes of Edgar Winters and Gary Glitter.

More importantly, Eggbot is moving his sound forward by looking backward, and that’s a welcome development. Part of Eggbot’s appeal is schtick, and any schtick can get old if you hear it enough times and it doesn’t get any better. Eggbot gets better by showing a little self-awareness and offering up new sophistication — dare I say maturity? — that culminates in the majestic “Heaven and Earth,” what might actually show a sentimental side to our resident court jester. He details a suicide with some note of compassion: “I hear the lights go out/ The angels start to sing/ One shot, there’s no doubt/ It’s the end of everything.”

The song finishes with a big guitar solo accompanied by crashing drums and then the familiar ba ba ba ba-da-da-dahh chorus of “Hey Jude,” maybe the world’s most bittersweet coda. But don’t get used to it. After a minute of silence, Eggbot finishes the album with a toy-sounding organ rip and Gallagher’s circus drumming.

Maybe he’s not quite ready for fatherhood.

Satellite Lot: Sleepwalk in a Burning Building

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Satellite Lot return with Sleepwalk in a Burning Building

No fair naming names, but not long after my list of the top local albums of 2005 was released with Satellite Lot’s Second Summer at the top I got an email from a band whose album I’d sort of panned: “Hey, I just picked up Second Summer … this album fucking ROCKS. Good choice, definitely number one. I’ve never heard anything this good out of Portland. Are there any other bands you would recommend in the area making music this good?”

Well, sure, I wrote back, there’s Cult Maze, An Evening With, Phantom Buffalo, Diamond Sharp, the Enchantments – and those are just the bands making great music in Portland within the same genre. But that debut record was certainly remarkable in part because it was so unexpected. Though they’d been playing in Portland in various forms for a good five years, no one would have told you in 2005 that Satellite Lot were one of the biggest draws, that’s for sure, nor a favorite to put out the best album of the year.

Two years later, the band remain something of an enigma—incredibly well respected, yet unable to keep a stable lineup in place, only rarely playing out in Portland, and about to release a follow-up record, Dec. 14 at SPACE [this originally ran in 2007], that would seem to have come out of the blue. And the album they’re delivering was recorded entirely in their practice space, mixed and mastered by guitarist and more Casey McCurry, without any professional studio intervention.

“It still sounds like clown shoes,” McCurry offers. “Everybody tells me it sounds really good, but it never sounds even close enough to a real record for us.” So why not record with a local studio? “With the process we use to write songs,” McCurry says, “we wouldn’t be able to go into a studio until we grow up or something.”

Judging by the results found on Sleepwalk in a Burning Building, the tradeoff is worth it. Yes, the instruments can sound mushy at times, and the vocals are buried on some tracks, making good lyrics hard to parse, but the songwriting is terrific—organic, original, dense and slippery. Slightly tighter focused than Second Summer, Satellite Lot here trade in some Jersey rock for the dance pop of bands like the Call, the Alarm, and Duran Duran, trading heavily on synthesizers and electronically enhanced beats.

“Never Again” leans more toward the rock, driven by Ben Landry’s heavy snare and finishing grandly with a reverb-laden guitar hook. In the middle, Aaron Hautala delivers the unrequited love song that became his stock in trade on Second Summer: “Tell me one thing/ It’s just killing me/ How long, how long did you know/ That the life you’d grown to love would end in misery/ Explode in my face?”

Yet the following “Liberation Front” is a change of pace on nearly every front. It opens dance-floor amped, with pulsing digital beats from the synths and a main melody line like something off Like a Virgin, before calming down with a horn section featuring Brian Graham (Sly Chi), Mark Tipton, and Dave Noyes (Seekonk/Rustic Overtones). It’s futuristic like something off the soundtrack to Flash Gordon and downright utopist: “They showed me visions of a future I’m in love with/ I found another way.” For the present, however, “You can just open your eyes and see/ All that suffering/ Open your heart and feel/ All that you’re meant to feel.”

Nor do the band live entirely in the past with their references. “Werewolf Wolf” is alive with Killers guitars and Minus the Bear vocals. “Devil’s Details,” featuring anesthetized lead vocals from the now-departed Sydney Bourke, has guitar bursts like Tegan and Sara. Some of the more morbid lyrics (“Brick Tiger”: “Timing is everything/ They’ll find me, with a rope around my neck”) even have a contemporary touchpoint with Hautala’s dad, horror writer Rick Hautala (how I missed that connection last time around, I have no idea).

With tracks that start at 3:30 and run as long as 6:00, 6:45, and 7:15 on a 12-track disc, there is grist for the pop lover here, as well as the prog sensible. There’s melody and rhythm enough in often many-layered tracks to deconstruct, pull apart, and reassemble. While the instant singalong might be harder to find than on Second Summer, persevere. The album improves with every listen and is damn hard to get out of your player of choice.