I don’t know much about parallax, or parallax errors for that matter. In fact, I’m more of a hard man than a smart man. And though I like the stars just as anyone else, astral workings and abstract principles, geometric foundations, fundamentals of physics, and menacing conceptualizations, such as derivatives, are beyond me. My inastuteness and overall scholarly indifference renders me unwilling to ponder such suspected intellectual ideas as parallactic decapitations, though repeatedly listening to Max Tundra’s most recent album has left me susceptible to spontaneous combustion.
Max Tundra (Ben Jacobs) is an English multi-instrumental musician, singer, and music producer. He has released two prior albums on Domino Records but has struck gold with his masterful third release, Parallax Error Beheads You, or P.E.B.Y. as it is affectionately known, complete with a glowing endorsement from Owen Pallett (plays show with Max Tundra. gets drunk. Passes out on beach in underwear. Epiphanizes that Tundra is the best he’d seen live).
P.E.B.Y. can seem like a clusterfuck of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer meeting Crystal Castles in Kirby’s Dreamland 3, or it could be that it’s just ouijaing the theme song from “St. Elsewhere”/ “Doogie Howser, M.D.”/insert favorite late ’80s/early `90s medical series here. A more likely cause is that the entire album was made on Tundra’s Commodore Amiga 500, his circa 1987 PC.
As Tundra describes it, “the sounds don’t emerge from the Amiga itself; however, the machine is used to control various synths, samplers and the like. I look at columns and numbers all day on the screen of a black and white television; these digits relate to pitches, durations and tones. A lot of the noises on my record are real; the cello, bass guitar, drums, piano, trumpet and other are all rehearsed and played by me, but sometimes I will use realistic fake versions of these noises. Each song is recorded in a different way; drumkits are recorded on mono cassette recorders twice, then stuck together on the left and right of a mix; string arrangements are planned then layered up; each note of an electric guitar is sampled so that it can be sequenced in ways too complicated for my fat fingers to play at full speed. And then I have a cup of tea and sing my heart out.”
Those that frequent the music blogs are recently familiar with Max for his cover of Hot Chip’s “Playboy,” in which he slyly alters the lyrics to name drop cool-kid favorites Abe Vigoda. While in many respects Max Tundra could be considered a poor man’s Hot Chip, it’s the constant references to modern popular culture and subtle nerdisms that make Tundra so endearing.
P.E.B.Y. is enamoring from the onset, with opener “Gum Chimes” demanding your repeated attention as a tale is told through the eyes of a piece of gum neglected by the human mouth that soothes it (“I fell out of your mouth today/ it was the sunshine that made me go away/ I landed in somebody’s lap/ between their iPod and yellow trucker cap/ and you won’t see me for days/ gone far away, I’m underfoot somewhere in town“). “Will Get Fooled Again,” an obvious play on The Who’s classic, is the standout song on the album, with Tundra discussing some of his ill-fated conquests: “I found the girl on Google Image Search/ she was in the background of a picture of a church/ I knew if we should get along as we were able/ I shouldn’t really bring her to the Seder table.” He also goes on to quirkily document the lady encounters he subsequently has on eBay, MySpace, and Friendster. “Until We Die” captures Tundra’s enduring formula of catchy beat-meets-clever lyric, as Sébastien Tellier’s “Divine” on crack, with Max confessing that “while Mr. Mendes kisses Kate/ I, in my kitchen, break a plate/ and sweep it up and dream of getting laid.”
P.E.B.Y. is a chip-heavy album, lined with songs that seem to perpetuate from Tundra’s search for a wife (as far as lyrical content is concerned). P.E.B.Y. excels in that it remains captivating when most computer-driven electro, while a novelty at first, becomes obnoxious and intolerable soon thereafter. Another credit is that in all the subtle comedies in the lyrics of the album, it avoids becoming annoying, airing on the cute side if anything. The fusion of charming lyrics and computerized harmonies has rendered P.E.B.Y. smart and relevant.