- James Kochalka Superstar, Bike Flipper
James Kochalka is a Vermont institution, a relentlessly creative one-man art factory. The state's first cartoonist laureate may be best known locally for "American Elf," a syndicated daily diary comic strip that has spanned 14 years — and appeared in Seven Days for a while, too.
Out in the global "comix" underground, the Eisner Award winner is kind of a big deal, with an output ranging from the goofy Glorkian Warrior series to his semi-adult spandex hero parody SuperF*ckers, which was turned into an animated series.
Not only can you buy Kochalka's comic work at Barnes & Noble, but he's also a musician who was once signed to the prestigious Rykodisc label. His latest release as James Kochalka Superstar, Bike Flipper, marks another offbeat entry into his ever-expanding canon.
My criticism is always superfluous, of course, but especially so with an artist this prolific. Sure, Bike Flipper is his new album, but Kochalka dropped 40 songs on Patreon in May alone. While reviews are often welcome promo, the artist has already moved on.
Kochalka's extensive recording catalog is consistently lo-fi and high-energy. His music channels the manic id of a 10-year-old kid too bright for his own good — or perhaps a lifelong Dead Kennedys fan who never lost his deep appreciation for poop jokes. Beneath the goofball antics, Kochalka is a keen observer of the human condition, with a sharp intellect.
And he knows it: The album's sixth track is titled "My Mind Operates on a Higher Level." It's typically tongue-in-cheek: "Always burn my dinner 'cause I cook too hot," he sing-shouts, "always strain my voice 'cause I love to rock."
As anyone who has seen the man perform live can attest, Kochalka is indeed a credible threat, mostly to himself. Bike Flipper memorializes one such recent incident in which he broke his wrist.
The record is built on an idea he's nursed for decades: to record an entire album a cappella. That didn't entirely happen. There are drums and pianos in the mix and an actual trumpet on the outro, "Broke Trombone."
True to form, this is a fast-moving project, full of charming imperfections. For a man who once wrote a manifesto called "Craft Is the Enemy," those rough edges are the whole point. He writes his songs in a mad rush and often aims to record them the same way. This approach has served Kochalka well. In fact, it's kind of incredible how he's been able to sustain such obvious joy in his creations.
After about three decades of constant production, Kochalka eschews craftsmanship, which has brought him to a fittingly funny place. Almost despite himself, he has become a master of wu wei, "effortless action." Bike Flipper is both unambitious and undeniable. And fair warning: You will never think the same way about peanut butter again.
Bike Flipper is available at kochalka.bandcamp.com.