Review: The Amoeba People- Songs, Stories, and Other Non Sequiturs
After a brief public lapse of faith last week, I’m happy to announce that things are back to normal. Despite what the mainstream is doing to push back and what Pitchfork is doing to put a big, pretentious black mark on independent music, the great artists are slowly but surely rising in stature and taking over every genre (even at least one mainstream Nashville artist). Almost every week I get a disc in the mail that makes me excited for the future of some genre or another. About a month ago it was The Rubber Knife Gang’s take on bluegrass, then Nick Curran’s great old school R&B, then a few weeks later the revitalization of hip-hop and the promise Jamey Johnson brings to country music. This week it was the novelty song.
I first heard about The Amoeba People from the legendary Dr. Demento, and after making contact they were kind enough to send me a copy of their debut, a concept album entitled Songs, Stories, and Other Non Sequiturs.
The whole idea of the album is this: since the invention of the radio, sound waves have been making their way into outer space (true scientific fact). Now, what if extraterrestrials were to hear the waves and then attempt to recreate them? The answer lies in the record, which is presented in the guise of a received transmission at a laboratory.
After a spoken introduction by the scientist comes the second track, “Cosmology, Your Futon, and You,” a Space Age garage rocker with a great rhythm section. This tune is slightly reminiscent of They Might Be Giants, although the band clearly has their own style, as evidenced by the next number, “Office Supplies Unite.” A great indie rock vibe and heavy guitar dominate this tale of office supplies that may or may not have a foundation in our current economic climate (“Hey-ho, the CEO was carted off to prison where the criminals go/For cheating the investors of their hard-earned dough/And the office resounded with cheers.”)
“The Ballad of Toshi the Turnip” is a wonderful Old West ballad in the tradition of “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” except for the fact that it deals with a guitar duel between a turnip and Tombstalk McGrew, a stalk of celery. As the liner notes (written by “the M51 Records scientists”) point out, there is “no discernible moral in this tale,” but there is a hell of a lot of fun and some excellent guitar work which displays a variety of picking styles.
Next up is my favorite track on the album,”The Autoharp is Out of Tune.” It’s one that really needs to be listened to, but I’ll try my best to describe it. It is a tale of a boy who throws his autoharp down the stairs because his mother won’t buy him a guitar and the interrogating vocals are totally hilarious. This is followed by “The Frustrating Tale of Trixie Dee the Doubter,” which is the unfortunate garage rock tale of a girl who defies gravity because of her refusal to believe anything.
The next three tracks are really one: the Old West legend of “Josie Durango, the Boy Raised by Bullfrogs,” a brief instrumental segue entitled “Eli and Zoe Defend the earth Against the Nefarious Space Beetles,” and then the second part of the song, “Josey Durango and the Great Fly Snag.” There is great subdued banjo playing throughout the tracks, but the main emphasis is clearly on the story which is one of the funniest things I’ve heard in a while.
The band returns to the country music vein they explored in a few of the previous tunes again on the disheartening “A Brief Chronological History of the Space Monkey Program,” which sounds like the western music of the late ’40s and early ’50s, complete with vinyl snaps and pops and some great pedal steel. The lyrics are tragic while the music remains upbeat. I really love this one and it ranks among my favorites on the album as well.
Toshi comes back again for “Toshi, the Improbable Superturnip,” which takes it’s musical influence from the ’60s garage and psychedelic rock and lyrically describes our heroine going after “corporate villains of the world.” The album ends back in the lab with the scientist’s final report on the transmission.
In order to fully appreciate this album, you probably need an odd sense of humor like me, but there is a lot here to like musically as well. Also, while I doubt if children were the target audience for this release, unlike most comedy albums there is nothing you wouldn’t want your child to hear and I can definitely see it appealing to younger listeners. In short, this is one you can put in your car stereo and be sure that the entire family will be fully satisfied.