Thursday, March 14, 2019

Chocolate Watchband: “This Is My Voice” (2019) CD Review

Before I even removed the plastic wrap from the CD case, I was appreciating This Is My Voice, the new release from Chocolate Watchband. And that’s because of its cover, which includes that insane quote from monster Rudy Giuliani, “Truth is not truth!” (actually, he said, “Truth isn’t truth!”). That single line really sums up the entire Trump administration, doesn’t it? And right next to that line is a photo of a woman holding a sign that says “Me Too.” The CD cover’s artwork addresses several other important issues, including authoritarianism and climate change. And the music, though it often has something of a classic psychedelic vibe, also addresses this strange and disturbing reality we all find ourselves struggling against these days. The album features mostly original material, along with a few excellent choices of covers. It’s something of a feat that this band is still composing and recording worthy and relevant material. This is an album I’m going to be listening to a lot.

The album opens with “Secret Rendezvous,” which comes on strong, a solid rock song written by David Aguilar. The band, by the way, is David Aguilar on vocals, harmonica, synths, and guitar; Tim Abbott on vocals, guitar, synths, sitar and harmonica; Gary Andrijasevich on drums, percussion and vocals; Alec Palao on bass and acoustic guitar; and Derek See on guitar and vocals. “Secret Rendezvous” is kind of a fun rock tune. “See me when I’m back in town/See me when you’re done with that clown.” Things then get more interesting with “Judgement Day,” also written by David Aguilar. This is a raw, bluesy, mean tune with some cool, atmospheric work on harmonica. The vocals have a wonderfully angry and worn sound, singing about how things these days aren’t going well. “I need a miracle here today/I feel like I’m going to be swept away.” Ah, yes. Halfway through, the tune kicks things up a notch, becoming more powerful. Check out these lines: “Something in America just ain’t right/I feel like I got to punch someone tonight.” I know the feeling, and I hope I never run into anyone wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, because those Nazis all deserve a severe beating, and I’m not sure I could hold back. And, man, I am so tired of being so angry. This song itself delivers a great pounding, a raw, thumping rhythm. It is a fantastic track.

“This Is My Voice,” the disc’s title track, has something of a classic psychedelic sound, mixed with a bit of a 1980s new wave vibe, but with lyrics that address our current ugly reality, with lines like “It’s easier to lie today/Facts don’t get in the way” and “It’s easier to hate today/Be invisible and troll away.” And yet there is optimism to this track, a positive bent that I really appreciate. This one was written by David Aguilar and Tim Abbott. It ends with percussion. We then get the album’s first cover, a cool rendition of Frank Zappa’s “Trouble Every Day” (here listed as “Trouble Everyday”), a song from the first Mothers Of Invention LP, Freak Out!  This song is certainly still pertinent, its opening lines being “Well, I'm about to get sick/From watchin' my TV/Checking out the news/Until my eyeballs fail to see.” Seriously, if you didn’t know, you’d think this was a new song. Well, some of the lyrics have been updated a bit. Check out the telling changes to the original lyrics in these lines: “And all the mass stupidity/That seems to grow more every day/Every time Fox News brays/Because the color of your skin/Don't appeal to them.” Daryl Hooper joins the band on keys, and Alby Cozzette plays electric guitar on this song.

“Take A Ride” has a Bo Diddley beat, which always works for me. Of course, I could do without the sound effect of the engine at the beginning, but no matter, as it’s a fun track. That’s followed by the album’s second cover, “Talk Talk,” a song by The Music Machine, and one I don’t recall hearing very many artists cover (other than Alice Cooper, anyway). I used to listen to the original rendition on one of those Baby Boomer Classics 1960s compilation cassettes. Chocolate Watchband does a good job with it, and I particularly like that brief instrumental section toward the end, with its delicious psychedelic edge. Then “Bed” is one I think a lot of folks are going to relate to, its first lines being “I’ve gotta get out of this bed/I’ve gotta get out of this bed/I’ve gotta get out of this bed/But I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” It’s difficult these days, isn’t it? It’s like we’re exhausted before we even begin. Another line that stands out each time I listen to this song is “My breath smells like I’m dead.” There is something catchy about this tune, and something kind of playful, though the snoring sounds at the end are unnecessary.

“Bombay Pipeline” is a cool, psychedelic instrumental tune (its title being a nod to that famous rock instrumental by The Chantays). This one was written by Tim Abbott. That’s followed a nice rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” a song I saw the Grateful Dead perform several times, and then a groovy cover of The Seeds’ “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine.” The album concludes with “‘Til The Daylight Comes” (which is erroneously printed as “Til’ The Daylight Comes” on the CD case).  This track opens with a bit of that frightening “Make America Great Again” song from one of Donald Trump’s twisted ego-driven celebrations of himself. Do you remember this? It was performed by a full choir at the official Independence Day celebration in 2017, honoring Trump rather than the nation or any of its ideals. My brain had done me the favor of temporarily forgetting I’d ever heard it, for it’s not only a terrible song, but a terrifying one. There is then a sound snippet from Trump, reminding people that what they are seeing and reading is not what’s really happening. Oh hell, if only that were true! Anyway, this is a seriously good song. There is something incredibly appealing about it, in large part because it is hopeful, which is a wonderful way to conclude the album. The daylight can’t get here soon enough.

CD Track List
  1. Secret Rendezvous
  2. Judgement Day
  3. This Is My Voice
  4. Trouble Everyday
  5. Take A Ride
  6. Talk Talk
  7. Bed
  8. Bombay Pipeline
  9. Desolation Row
  10. Can’t Seem To Make You Mine
  11. ‘Til The Daylight Comes 
The release date for This Is My Voice is different depending on the source you turn to. The press release I received lists the date as February 22, 2019. Bandcamp has the date as February 28th. Amazon claims it will be released on CD on April 26, 2019. And Discogs says it was released in 2018. At any rate, this album is or will be available on both CD and vinyl, and it follows the band’s 2015 release, I’m Not Like Everybody Else

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