(North East Indie, CD)
Cerebus Shoal, art-rockers from Portland, Maine, create surrealistic music with oddball theatrical flourishes. Formed more than a decade ago, the band has 11 releases to its credit. While the oft-abused term "freak-folk" could be used to describe Cerberus, it fails to convey the full scope of their work. I think it's about time for a new genre, anyway. How 'bout "showtune pagan," or "anarcho-carnivale?"
The music on The Land We All Believe In ranges from Gypsy-tinged folk to scampering circus music. In between are moments of reflective beauty, replete with shimmering guitars and haunting vocals.
On opener "Wyrm," leader Chriss Sutherland vocalizes in what may be his own language. Spiky guitars and shuffling percussion push the song through increasingly choppy waters, while pointed harmonica pierces the tune's rugged hide like a whale hunter's spear.
This nautical vibe is carried over on the title track. "Memory, the tattered sea, a strip of land behind," Colleen Kinsella and Eric Davidson sing sultrily. Banjo and tambourine are strewn across the song's expanses like soggy driftwood; you can almost smell the brine. Makes sense from a band that makes its home on Maine's craggy coastline.
If Kate Bush and the Wicked Witch of the West formed a band, they might write a song like "The Ghosts Are Greedy." With its soaring, banshee wails, this song is what winged monkeys might be listening to on their iPods. By the time the creepy, spoken-word bit rolls around, it's clear we're not in Kansas anymore.
"Pie for the President," is a maddeningly jaunty exercise that sounds like the Teletubbies on acid. The tune's brazen bizarreness is met by the exceptionally strange lyric, "Bring a pie to the President / I just want to feed him big sausages." Is there a vegetarian option?
"Taking Out the Enemy" closes the album with a potent blend of tribal tonalities. Musically, the song is quite gorgeous. Its lyrics might land the group on some kind of government watch list, however. "Taking out the passengers / the pilots and the stewardesses / It's time to take the plane and hunt down my enemies / drop a bomb on my enemies," the members sing together. Of course, they claim later in the song that this vengeful work "gives them heartburn." Maybe it's a cautionary tale.
Cerbebrus Shoal's uncommon mix of melody and dissonance results in a dizzying melange of sound. While their music is not for everyone, those willing to set sail with the band will be rewarded with plenty of sonic booty. Hear them live at Johnson State College's Coffeehouse Series, in the basement of Stearns Hall, on Thursday, December 1.