Second chances. I will always argue that people and art should always be given another chance. For one, just out of charity. But for most, it’s because one go round just isn’t fair, and people simply don’t pay enough attention. For instance, I was recently championing Strange Brew, the 1983 film starring Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis as SCTV characters Bob & Doug McKenzie. Nearly everyone I spoke to had seen it, yet they all dismissed it as drivel. “But, it’s Hamlet,” I declared. After the looks of confusion, I would explain that the main plot framework of Strange Brew is essentially that of Hamlet. Elsinore Brewery takes the place of Elsinore Castle. The protagonist is Pamela (Hamlet), whose uncle, Claude, marries her recently widowed mother, Gertrude. Bob & Doug are, of course, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern. Now, not everything that gets a second chance ends up bearing fruit like Strange Brew, which will be viewed with different eyes now by my friends, but everything deserves the opportunity to try.
At first listen, I didn’t know quite what to make of Grampall Jookabox’s Ropechain, but thanks to my philosophy of second chances, the sophomore album released under David (Moose) Adamson’s nom de plume is now one of my favorites. Adamson somehow combines an indie rock aesthetic with underground hip-hop and absurdist humor. Think of Tunde Adebimpe covering Beck’s “Loser” as a mash-up with Danger Mouse, but after having seen a marathon of Ghost Hunters and you might get a subtle hint of an idea of what Ropechain is all about.
“Black Girls” is a stunner of an opener, with a somewhat spooky processed choir singing a catchy yet unintelligible refrain over Tom Waits-like back alley percussion and melodic bass. Adamson’s delivery of humorous lyrics about the title subject such as, “Black girls walk on tips of mountains / Black girls jump seas like they was fountains” recalls Lonesome Crowded West era Isaac Brock and recent James Murphy at the same time. “Let’s Go Mad Together” is aptly titled, as the song is paranoid to the core, and more than a bit eerie. It would be unsettling if it weren’t so listenable. Equally strange is follower “Ghost,” finding Adamson’s lyrics made electronically falsetto as he recalls a paranormal encounter. It’s essentially an indie electro campfire story.
Things get really interesting in the center of the album, as four of my new favorite songs play one right after another. “Old Earth, Wash My Beat” is an infectious chant that will stick with you for hours. “The Girl Ain’t Preggers” is simply hilarious while not veering toward parody in the slightest. There’s even a sense of a U2-like chorus. Whereas Portishead took frightening conceptual music, paired it with tender lyrics and created an even more disturbing masterwork, Grampall Jookabox takes dark and foreboding music, pairs it with tongue in cheek lyrics of love and it goes in a completely different direction. “I Will Save Young Michael” is Adamson’s touching missive to Michael Jackson, and a longing for a time long since irretrievable. As opposed to Michael’s danceable pop confection, however, “I Will Save Young Michael” sounds like an album track from Animal Collective.
While thousands of pie-eyed Urban Outfitters aficionados and broken hearted hipsters eagerly await the next Sufjan Stevens state-related release (don’t be mad, I’m one of you), Asthmatic Kitty has something amazing to offer in Ropechain, a slightly manic yet always enjoyable album from Indianapolis native Grampall Jookabox. File this one under ah-sum.