When the moons aligned and bassist Doug Roush and drummer Keith Roman at long last formed a musical venture, they decided to keep guitars out of the discussion and see how much noise they could make with only drums and bass. To remind themselves that this was all just for fun and to keep the mood light they settled on the name Catbox. After a couple of years of practicing and playing and writing and ranting they did what any “keep it light” band would do: They recorded a progressive sci-fi rock opera about the invasive meddling of a global genetics corporation.With just two instruments, instruments normally relegated to second-string rhythm section status, one is forgiven for wondering if these two Columbia City boys are able to fill out the sonic spectrum. The answer is a resounding ME-OW! While many bassists are content to confine themselves to five frets, Roush is all over the neck, picking, slapping, popping, strumming chords and generally making more noise than a bassist should be allowed to make. The closest comparison I can make is to Les Claypool, but Roush is much less into repetitive technical displays for their own sake, preferring instead to weave strong melodies into his awe-inspiring technique. As for Roman, well, he’s got a drum kit bigger than a VW Bug and fearlessly coaxes a rich breadth of jazzy sounds from every inch, keeping a steady beat while adding unorthodox fills and patterns to bounce off the complex bass patterns. Not only do you not miss having a traditional guitarist in the mix, but you’d be hard pressed to find where he could add anything of substance.
As you might expect, the songs have a unique sound. At times, as with “The Furnace of Dreams Part 1,” Catbox flaunt a syncopated rhythm, ringing harmonics, a barrage of crashes and interest-perking sound effects, while in “Guitar Zero,” a song about the worthless distractions that fill our lives with empty hours, you might almost think you’re listening to a regular rock band. The gutsy bass of “Remember When” underscores the humorous lines of “Do you remember when people loved each other / Families stayed together / And we didn’t lock our doors … I don’t either.” Some songs, like the eerie “Nothing to Luz,” incorporate the mandolin for some Spanish flavor, while “I’m Not Alone” alternates between gossamer, dream-like passages that are barely there and gritty, low thumping rhythms that jolt you awake. An album highlight is “Someday is Today,” a track calling for change, for those stuck in the world of SleepWake to arise from their slumber. The song culminates in an upbeat jam between these two monsters of rock as they lock into a thunderous groove. There is no doubt that these guys know how to write a solid, albeit somewhat unorthodox, tune.
Catbox are far from your standard issue classic or modern rock band, which unfortunately will turn away many would-be fans. Fortunately for the mildly curious, however, Roman and Roush must be on catnip because they are offering the ability to download the entire magnificent album, either with or without narration, for free at http://bpluschords.tripod.com/catbox.htm. No playful yarn balls of string attached. Give SleepWake a try and see if it doesn’t leave you purring with delight.
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