I asked the members of the End Times Spasm Band if they’d ever been accused of imitating the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Songwriter and founder Bjart Helms replied, “I don’t mind that. It’s a lot better than being compared to the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.”
Certainly they have the SNZ influence, along with other “hot music” acts (Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five, Hot Club de France, the Asylum Street Spankers), but their new EP release 2 is much leaner sonically, with a unique combination of tempo change-ups and dizzy, crazy tunes. Lyndsy Rae Patterson’s singing is more bluesy and ballsy than SNZ’s Katherine Whalen’s, though there is some comparison.
Formed in March of last year, the band gets its name from the rustic pick-up “spasm bands” of the early 20th century (Willy and the Poor Boys from CCR’s “Down on the Corner” come to mind) and the members’ fascination with apocalyptic motifs. “Think Mad Max with a banjo,” says founding member Erik Stillabower. You can hear it: sinewy and dirty, belting out a two-step. 2 shoots out of the gate with “When Autumn Blooms,” followed by “I Never Knew,” a pair of catchy melodies with such infectious rhythms that you almost miss the pure poetry of the lyrics. With “Bertrand Hustle” coming third, you get a sense that the lyrics are far more important to the overall effect of 2 than you might have anticipated by the banjo or kazoo. “It takes brains more than it takes muscle, so knock that bee right out of your bustle,” Patterson sings. “Other dances all exist, but logic never gets you kissed.” Helms explains that there’s a deliberate attempt to temper the “high-brow” lyrical references to Bertrand Russell or Greek mythology with the low-down silliness of the kazoo. “We want to avoid the connotation that we’re jazz-heads.”
“Medea” follows as a more overt homage to the Zippers or Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing.” The best moment on the disc is the duet, “I Don’t Roll Like That,” a tune packed with ’tude and bounce that puts matrimony very clearly in the “no thank you, please” category. “If you want to have, hold, love and depend, then get a cat, ’cause you gotta understand that I don’t roll like that.” Next, Patterson belts out a cover of the classic “Saint James Infirmary” that showcases her delectably smoky voice. 2 comes home with the gem “Neptune and Pluto,” a cerebral drag lyrically reminiscent of Andrew Bird: “O! The order of tranquilities is not among our possibilities. / You know that the opposing thumbs of the Earth might be dumb, but they’ll argue ’til arguing’s through.” The kazoo growls and the banjo punches and the head spins, grinning all the while. 2 is one of the more consistently satisfying discs I’ve listened to in quite a while. It was recorded at the Ensomberoom and is available at Wooden Nickel locations and online at www.chainsmokingrecords.com.
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