Moris Tepper belongs to an elite class of male singer-songwriters who trade in sensitivity and conventionality for a more avant-garde, bizarre approach. This group includes the likes of Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart, Frank Black and Robyn Hitchcock. I mention these artists specifically because, if you’ve seen Tepper’s impressive resume, you’d know that he’s collaborated with all of these artists. As a musician and a songwriter, he fits right in with the bizarro sensibilities of Waits and Beefheart and the quirky imagination of Hitchcock and Black. And those in need of new output from an eccentric genius such as those mentioned above should look no further than Head Off.
Depending on how you look at it, Tepper either doesn’t fuck around or only fucks around. He’s weird and unconventional, certainly, but plays short, accessible songs that endear you to them, regardless of how gritty or dirty they are. Head Off consists mainly of straightforward rockers that fool you into believing they’re too left-field for most listeners. Not true. While Waits and Beefheart may be more of an acquired taste, Tepper has more of a pop songwriting sensibility than his freakish forebears.
Tepper can do a great three-chord rock song with the best of `em. Take album opener “Bag of Nails,” which crams some seriously twisted distortion into a mere minute-thirty. His take on Captain Beefheart’s “Ricochet Man” is similarly loud and crazy. And “1000 Eyes” could easily be mistaken for PJ Harvey, if Tepper weren’t so blatantly male.
But Tepper also knows his way around a slower composition. The title track combines acoustic guitar with harmonica and a vocal that recalls post-Heads David Byrne. “I’m the One” is swampy blues that’s as fun as it is raw and rugged. And “The Land of the Ten Foot Tall” returns to a louder, crazier sound, whilst maintaining the swampy slide-blues heard in earlier tracks.
Moris Tepper has a reputation for being as odd as the company he keeps, but it could be all PR. After all, I’ve listened to this album a few times through, and it’s weird, but it’s just so damn likeable. Chances are it took you several listens before you warmed up to Trout Mask Replica or Bone Machine. But there’s an even better chance you’ll dig this the first time around.
PJ Harvey – Uh Huh Her
Skeleton Key – Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon
Mark Lanegan – Bubblegum
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.