(Self-released, CD, digital download)
When last we left Tommy Bobcat, the Guides for the Future bassist had released a touching tribute to his late mother, For Karen. Composed of instrumental suites of a decidedly ethereal and experimental nature, the album was a wordless rumination on life, death and grief that carried significant emotional weight on a bed of shifting soundscapes. It was an unusual, and unusually profound, work.
On his latest effort, No Tails, Bobcat again presents a curious collection of sprawling sounds and ideas. It is ambitious in both size and scope. Unlike For Karen, however, the album lacks an identifiable thematic thread. The result is a hodgepodge of abstract concepts that, while often fascinating individually, lack cohesion and make for a jarring listen all together.
The record begins with the sounds of a ticking clock and a pulsing heartbeat, juxtaposed with a guitar arpeggio over a swell of synth tones. Those melodic elements then de-tune, modulating downward before settling in a new key, where they meet a chunky, metal guitar riff and a stiff backbeat. But the intrigue set forth by that unconventional intro is laid to waste by indulgent, finger-tapping guitar wankery that subsequently breaks off into a dreamily jammy section and finishes with more shredding guitar. “Mister Natural” is a schizophrenic piece that could either be an earnest instrumental experiment or an ironic genre mashup. But it doesn’t really succeed in either case.
“Mai Figment” follows and offers a sort of futuristic Zappa homage, complete with agitated and unhinged low-toned vocal musings. It’s much more interesting and better executed than its predecessor.
Next, “So Good” features a duet with Doll Fight! singer Christine Mathias. Over a breezy Hawaiian progression, the duo espouses the virtues of creamy, dreamy coconuts, with Mathias cooing in a girlish — and kinda creepy — Betty Boop croon, while Bobcat responds in a low and equally creepy basso profundo.
The album continues in increasingly off-kilter fashion, from the electro-rock jitter of “Geographic Tongue” and the twisted “Beyond Repair” to the oddly touching ballad “My Eternity” and deconstructed flute-funk of “Intellectual Graffiti.” It’s an aural workout just to keep up. But there are moments — the absurdist punk anthem “Our Tracks,” for instance — when the effort is worth it.
No Tails is not an easily accessible work by any measure. But amid the chaos, there is some sort of queer ingenuity at the core of Tommy Bobcat’s ponderous record.
No Tails by Tommy Bobcat is available at tommybobcat.bandcamp.com. Tommy Bobcat plays Nectar’s on Tuesday, December 18.