Monday, May 7, 2012

Album Review: Ulysses Cannon, I (EP)

Music today isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Popular rock bands are so few and far between they’re cultivating themselves as identifiable genre comparisons, simply, from lack of reference. Rock songs with arena hooks are Foo Fighters. If you once used a piano and you’ve moved on to more dance-infused music, you’re Coldplay (who was once U2). If anyone dares to slap a bass, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (this has kind of been true since the mid-90’s) come to mind. Deal with it as you may, cd’s are being shipped to museums and Train is somehow in the Top 40, again.

What about blues music? Oh yeah, you mean the Black Keys right? The bearded flannel donning hipster, and the nerdy looking drummer with horrible posture hipster, from Ohio, remains the 2012 perception of the blues. Good grief. Would it kill anyone to make a Robert Randolph and the Family Band reference!?

I only bring it up, because I’m pretty sure the first time I saw Matthew Snow & the Way it Was, I said to my bass crunching friend in the band, “yeah…you sound like the Black Keys,” to which the band put their drinks down and carted me over to the nearest bowling alley and removed my hand Kingpin style. That’s right; blame the prices at Brooklyn Bowl on my insurance claim!

So, I shouldn’t have said that, and the Keys shouldn’t have released El Camino. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but everyone involved paid the price equally—occasionally I’m relegated to writing, “I’m an asshole” in my check memos.

This I do know: Matthew Snow & the Way it Was have evolved into a four-piece, Queens based juggernaut, Ulysses Cannon, and have completed a rip-roaring six-song EP titled, simply, “I.”

Just in time for summer, the fun, easy, digestion of the music, as well as their logo design, remind me of the cleansing waters of Cedar Point’s Thunder Canyon. The best part of any trip to the world’s biggest and BEST amusement park was the unscripted, mid-day, sun escape through Thunder Canyon’s swirling waterfalls. The arraignments of Ulysses Cannon hit you in the same way, you have an idea of what’s coming, but no idea how soaked you’re about to become.  

The opening note of the album is a harmonica—allow that to sink in. Nanoseconds into the hard rocking “Self Induced Insomnia” the mood is locked in for a bar room rump shaker. Dim the lights and allow your soles to spin in the sawdust. Somehow, Ryan Adams’ “Shakedown on 9th Street” blends perfectly with that magical call-and-response dance circle when everyone says “and a little bit softer now.” The comparison holds water (dirty Thunder Canyon water?), because 1) that’s easily the best dance circle chant 2) I always mix up this particular Ryan Adams title with “Tina Toledo’s Streetwalking Blues,” with Toledo being a city in, Ohio, where the Black Keys are from 3) Ryan Adams is the second artist (Neil Young is first) that comes to mind when I think of “best uses of the harmonica.”

Following a big rock finish when lead vocalist Matthew Snow successfully tries to oxidize recording tape vocally, Ulysses Cannon transitions unequivocally into vast green pastures with their catchiest offering, “Want” in what should be the quintessential sun-soaked, BBQ, bikini-car wash accompaniment of the summer. 

“Holding On” evokes the essence of Steely Dan with the effervescent joy of having a beer after work while a hired choir sings to you, all about it. Like a throttle parched freight train, "She's In Control" revs up and down ignoring the local stops, meanwhile, "Got it Bad" is an epic closer that must have been co-written by B.A. Baracus, uncredited. 

Expect an EP packed tight with energy, variety, shouting, simmering breakdowns and summertime shenanigans, like for instance, screaming, “You may never know my motherfucking name!” Other times UC will simply turn the keys over to lead guitarist Hiro Suzuki (I’m certainly the first person to make that pun) for a “take this one out” solo—guitar work that’s bound to elicit a classic squinting double-take.

With raspy charm, things like “Pretty Lady” and “I wait 100 days to feel you one more night,” are sung without sounding ponderous. Confidence is a quantification that can’t be forced, taught or beckoned. It’s just a pleasant present for the senses when the whole package comes together with such zeal.

There’s no chart for finding the best skipping stones. You find them, when you get your hands on them, sifting for yourself, or your buddy hands you one.

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