The concept of robot band is one that dates back pretty far, at least to Kraftwerk, and, chances are, earlier than that even. Daft Punk made robo-dance romantic, and the Chuck E. Cheese house band rocked some Eddie Cochran and Beach Boys covers for the last few decades, though San Diego’s Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra has all of these acts beat in terms of just how `robotic’ the music actually is. To clarify, Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra consists of SPO-20, vocalist and front-bot, and Professor B. Miller, the mad scientist behind the operation. Together they take their robotic pop music well beyond absurd realms, somehow circling back to yield some highly infectious and enjoyable curiosities.
To push things even farther into absurdity, SPO’s debut album is, in fact, a four-CD box set, including one disc of b-sides and rarities, and a live disc. That’s a pretty insane amount of music to release as one’s debut, and even more outlandish when you take a gander at the rear side of the box, which indicates the material therein was written over an eleven-year period. But robots don’t age, of course, so SPO-20 can remain evergreen, or at the very least rust resistant.
The music itself sounds far less like the work of Kraftwerk or Daft Punk, and much more like a They Might Be Giants side project, albeit one with an android (which sounds like a 1980s IBM dictation program) on vocals. Among the highlights on disc one (titled The Comeback) are “I Stole Your Daddy’s Time Machine,” “I May Not Be Your Bookie” (with some rather vicious threats), “Snakes Shouldn’t Drive” (“they can’t open doors, you show me your proof“) and “Speaking In Tongues,” with some laugh out loud moments, notably the robot’s own tongues recitation and the argument “Swahili is fun in theory, but then so is licking bumblebees.” Disc Two, Sold Out, takes things up a notch with the funky synth and wild guitar licks of “Remax,” the space lounge of “Camels Are Not Pets,” tropical tax dodging jam “Cayman Islands,” and the new wave laser synths of “Origami.”
The third disc is particularly entertaining, especially because of the Orchestra’s choice of covers. First up is a rendition of The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” cleverly re-titled “Robots Don’t Cry.” (Well, they don’t) Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me” is likewise a bizarre highlight, as the stoic voice of SPO-20 removes Joel’s affectation and converts the old time rock `n’ roll style track into a midi muzak breeze. I would be remiss not to mention the cover of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.” Sure, it’s still pretty silly, but heck, I can’t help but love it, for all its cheesy Casio goodness.
Were the four discs of music not enough, there is extra material, including audio commentary, a band bio, and even liner notes written by Gene LaMont, music editor for Popular Science magazine. Think about that for a minute. Toss in Michael Buchmiller’s stunningly quirky artwork (hmmm…Buchmiller, B. Miller?) and you’ve got a hell of a package. I guarantee you will hear absolutely nothing like this anytime soon, but these four discs provide enough wild, catchy and just plain odd enjoyment to last through any length of cyber music drought. Long live the robot band.
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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.