(Self released, CD, digital download)
It’s unclear whether “Adrian Aardvark” is the pseudonym of Christopher Rigsbee or the name of the collective of musicians with which the Plattsburgh-based songwriter surrounds himself. It could be both. Or it could be neither. When it comes to Adrian Aardvark, clarity is in short supply. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In 2012, AA released a daunting collection of material called Hidden Magic Revival. Featuring 15 musicians, the record was a dark and disorienting affair, inspired by a profound personal trauma suffered by Rigsbee earlier that year. It was, presumably, a cathartic release for its author. But for listeners the album proved a grueling exercise, almost as though Rigsbee were challenging us to immerse ourselves in his own monstrous pain through confounding compositions and nearly unintelligible vocal howls.
Rigsbee and co. are back with a new effort, American Aardvark. Featuring a smaller consortium of players, the record has a leaner and noticeably lighter feel than its unwieldy predecessor. It is no less bewildering and complex, but, lacking the pervasive sense of dread that characterized that record, Rigsbee’s latest is more accessible. Relatively, anyway.
Much as Hidden Magic Revival presented Adrian Aardvark as something like a twisted version of Broken Social Scene, American Aardvark implies a warped creative spirit. Tracks such as “Lonely Bunny” and “Betsy Ross” practically vomit a jumble of broken tambourines, saxophones and string instruments around Rigsbee’s low-toned, stream-of-consciousness prattling. It’s a mess. But, like a disheveled bedroom, it’s a weirdly comforting mess. There’s a cozy familiarity amid the detritus.
Throughout the record, Adrian Aardvark have inserted strange little interludes, non sequiturs that initially seem to exist solely for the pleasure of the band. These include a glitchy intro (“Uhhhmerica”), seeming studio outtakes (“Time Travel in 2012”), the wildly unexplainable (“Uhhhrdvark”) and a three-minute closing ramble (“Bathtub Party”). But rather than distracting, the idiosyncrasies of each break in the action have a unifying effect. They are loose threads that somehow stitch this fraying tapestry together and give the actual songs some context.
American Aardvark may never have mass appeal. Even among those who like their pop on the experimental side, the record may prove too strange and unhinged. But for those with the aural fortitude to brave its peculiarities, it’s a fascinating listen.
American Aardvark by Adrian Aardvark is available at adrianaardvark.bandcamp.com.