So, here we have a completely unique, super creative and highly ambitious surf release! I'm of course good friends with Danny (ano now that the T-Men have a CD out with Double Crown, his labelmate!), so I will not pretend to be unbiased - I AM heavily biased - and I love this CD! So, acknowledging my bias, I would still like to write a few words about it, and of course recommend it very highly!
I suspect most SG101-ers know all about the TomorrowMen, but in case you are a newbie or just haven't been paying attention, they're a San Francisco quartet who's been around for something like five-six years (maybe more?), playing a lot in the Bay Area, and on occasion further. The band was formed by Danny Snyder who is the lead guitarist and also the primary writer. (Danny also plays the second guitar in Meshugga Beach Party and Frankie & the Pool Boys.) The band's schtick is that they're time travelers from year 3000, and many song titles reference temporal phenomena in some way or another, Given that this album has also really been a long time coming, I think the title of "It's About Time!" is about the funniest and most apt album title I've heard in a very long time! Nicely done, right off the bat.
The most remarkable thing about this album is definitely the music, which is of course exactly as it should be. It's at once unmistakably surf, but also unlike any surf music that's come before. SF has had a long tradition of highly progressive surf bands, the Mermen and Pollo Del Mar being the most notable. The T-Men have been able to absorb and channel a lot of that progressive SF vibe while at the same time remaining much more grounded in the tradition - a neat trick! The sounds of all the instruments are traditional, Danny playing his heavily reverbed Jag through a vintage brownface Bandmaster (despite my oft-mentioned skepticism of Jags, Danny makes his sound REALLY good here), Tony's drums sounding crisp and big while avoiding the modern rock drum sound (you know, an annoyingly loud kick drum, heavily compressed and separated individual drums,etc.), Ben's rhythm also sounding clean and crisp, and Steve's bass full but placed in the background in a more traditional manner. They all also play in a way that's true to '60s surf music, nothing here that you wouldn't have heard back then.
What makes the T-Men unabashedly ambitious and progressive and unique is the songwriting and arranging, which are unlike any other band's out there. Highly textured songs with many interlocking parts, never following ordinary and traditional chord progressions or even song structures. There's nothing rote or even routine in these songs. In fact, I think the progressive label is very fitting here in the sense that like many '70s prog bands, the T-Men are not concerned with just setting up and then delivering the big chorus but rather letting the songs unfold in a way that paints evocative mental pictures (maybe sharing with old prog bands a common influence of classical music in this regard?). Whatever the case may be, I must say it works like a charm. I think these songs take several listens to 'get' and fully insinuate themselves into one's synapses, but once they're there, their enjoyment deepens with each listen, especially since there's so much packed in there that you will hear something new each time you listen - these songs are thick.
I won't bore people by going through the album song by song. I'll just say a couple of quick things: first, all four songs from the T-Men's 2007 home-made EP-CD have been rerecorded for this CD, and they sound much better, if I may say so (and they already sounded great before!). In fact, I don't know if it's the familiarity or the blessing of the initial inspiration, but three of those songs are among my very favorites on this CD: Chronosurf (a true band anthem, a declaration of arrival), Requiem For A TomorrowMan (so urgent, the sound of imminent danger!) , and Argosy (so melancholy) are just phenomenal songs, truly great. Second, of the new songs my hands down favorite is Momentium, which is devastatingly good, with its constant key changes, thick reverb, and an ascending, even soaring melody. Of note is also the Godzilla-fuzz of Curse You Fred Haines (what's up with that title??), which I think could make Davie jealous! Another fantastic song, a beautiful melody with great texture and interesting and unexpected secondary parts. Also really dig their Atlantics' tribute (seems there's a lot of that going on lately - gee, I wonder who started that trend?? ), Phistful of Photons, which works like a charm. But really, every song on here has a lot to offer, as long as you give yourself the time to absorb such rich music.
Speaking of rich, a word about the production - the album was recorded by Ferenc (Pollo del Mar, Frankie & the Pool Boys) in his basement studio (just like the Frankie CD), and it sounds phenomenal, very full and warm, with excellent tones. I suspect that working with Ferenc and (probably) not being on the clock also allowed the boys to experiment a lot, and have all sorts of neat spacey, old-fashioned sci-fi sound effects mixed in throughout the album, as well as using some interesting guitar effects (Leslie, Univibe, talk-box) which pop up every so often, adding yet another dimension to the recording. Ferenc has become an excellent surf music producer and engineer, and I'd urge any surf band in the Bay Area to consider recording their album with him - you won't get a better production than this.
The artwork is also very cool, and very fitting the theme and the music. It references the '60s, without being retro and a throwback, and it has a great deal of texture and elegance. In that way, I think it's a perfect reflection of the music. Dead on, really.
Finally, I shouldn't forget the contributions made by Tony, Steve and Ben. They all play as a band, and each player does a great job, adding to the whole and always servicing the songs. Tony's playing in particular is outstanding on several of the songs, but the entire band does really well. Ben's off to grad school on the east coast soon, so his time (ha!) with the T-Men (as well as the DeadBeats) is unfortunately running out. They'll be hard-pressed to find a replacement as good as him, Ben's playing complements Danny's playing so naturally and transparently that it's easy to forget he's there, but a more careful listen quickly reveals his key role. And Steve's bass playing is solid and imaginative and interesting when it needs to be. I should add that Danny's guitar playing is very impressive. The man truly knows his way around the guitar and has an enviable technique, which he always uses in the service of the song, never just to show off. Highly competent playing by everyone!
What else to say but that I think this is definitely one of the best albums of 2011, and it's already got some stiff competition (off the top of my head, El Supernaut, the Aqualads, and the Secret Samurai, though I'm sure I've overlooked some others). All SG101-ers should buy this album, there's just no reason for any of you not to. Don't do it to help the band - do it for yourselves! You will love it!
GREAT job, Danny, Tony, Steve and Ben!!
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Last edited: Jun 30, 2011 17:45:03