Experimental guitar mars Drums & Tuba

"Been dazed and confused for so long it's not true" -- well, for 50 minutes at least, because that's how long it takes to listen to "Mostly Ape," the new album from Drums and Tuba. Even though some illegal substance probably brought on Jimmy Page and Robert Plant's dazed and confused state, this record will leave you feeling the same way -- a plus for anyone who wants an easy buzz.

"Mostly Ape" is a well-intended record, no doubt, but one that leaves the listener feeling smacked in the face for no reason. The catchy rock riffs, the funky tuba line and the experimental guitar shrieks make you wonder if you should dance, bang your head or just sit down and cry.

Formed in Austin, Texas, when Tony Nozero (drums and electronics) and Brian Wolff (tuba and trumpet) met as employees in a health food store, Drums and Tuba has been together for seven years. Neal McKeeby, the guitar player, joined the band later, after a search for another horn player failed. The band relies heavily on a rigorous touring schedule (playing over 200 shows in 2001 alone) as its main means of publicity, opening for the likes of Ani DiFranco and Oysterhead.

On "Mostly Ape," the band tries to capture some of the spontaneity and rawness characteristic of their stage shows. And a successful attempt it is. The entire album was recorded and mixed in one week. In the end, the result is a very "live" album. It doesn't sound overly produced, and you can visualize them playing in a tiny club.

"Mostly Ape" fosters a sound so eclectic it's hard to categorize. The band's sound is best explained as a mix of Led Zeppelin, Cake and Radiohead. This fusion makes the record versatile. It will make a perfect companion if you are sad, mad, glad or anywhere in between.

The album opens weakly with two songs that could easily fit into both the sad and mad categories. Both "Brain Liaters" and "Igor Rosso" have a slow, eerie feel produced by long, drawn-out tuba bass lines and harsh guitar sounds. This eeriness is a recurring theme throughout the album, popping up here and there in the most peculiar places.

Another staple on the album is the use of tight guitar riffs, riffs that cannot help but resurrect the classic rock anthems produced by the likes of Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Metallica. These well-constructed guitar parts are what make the album worth a listen.

Despite the quality of the riffs, McKeeby often feels the need to experiment on top of them. He produces guitar sounds that are complimentary neither to the album nor to the listener's ears. They're best described as "nails on a chalkboard."

It is often said that musicians use their instruments to create a conversation with each other during an instrumental piece. If Drums and Tuba are trying to achieve this same effect, they end up with a huge catfight rather than a playful conversation. The guitar is all too often overbearing to the "happy" tuba.

These alien guitar sounds essentially ruin what could be a really good album. Out of 12 songs, at least half of them suffer from spastic guitar syndrome. On "Igor Rosso" the guitar sounds lost, like an abandoned child walking alone through the woods.Luckily, the tuba comes along and helps find the way.

The tuba and drums regularly save the songs. Where the guitar tends to wander off into its own little depressed world, Nozero provides a jazz-influenced beat, or Wolff offers a funky bass line that ground the song. If it weren't for the mastery of the tuba and drum work, the songs on "Mostly Ape" would drone on without any structure.

For a band that consists of drums, a tuba and a guitar, the variety of musical styles showcased is amazing. In "Magoo," Drums and Tuba are able to incorporate a 311-type riff, Rammstein electronics and a Louis Armstrong trumpet -- it is impressive that they can put all these elements in the same song and come off sounding decent.

In "4style," they again demonstrate their unique musical abilities. McKeeby shows off a Dave Matthews-like percussive rhythm guitar, Nozero tickles the drums to produce a mild rock beat and Wolff somehow makes his tuba sound like Dumbo waddling around. All combine to produce a unique sound.

However, for all their different influences, Drums and Tuba can't seem to make their songs diverse. Many songs just seem to run together. "Superbee" has the same chord progression as "Air Con Dee." Likewise for "Elephants," "Igor Rosso" and "Brain Liaters." The band tries hard to produce song styles that are original, but the songs themselves lack individuality.

The most distinctive "feelgood" song on the album is "The Metrics." You could easily jam to this while primping for a night out on the town. The tune harks back to Elvis' "A Little Less Conversation;" it has the same rock/blues elements. To compliment the riff, you hear a funky percussion section produced by the tuba and drums. The listener is automatically moved to dance.

On the flip side, the song most likely to drive someone into a state of depression is "Breakfast With Miletus." It opens with a sound similar to distorted church bells. It then murmurs on, every once in a while letting out a suppressed snappy jazz riff. You cannot help but sense the evil that is lurking behind every note.

"Mostly Ape" is a good album, but it's so weird it takes a while to realize its positive qualities. Drums and Tuba do an exceptionally good job of creating a funky sound with a rock 'n' roll backbeat. But there's more to it: classical, jazzy, electronic and R&B get together and jam. "Mostly Ape" is definitely worth a listen, for the experience alone if for nothing else. Just don't listen to it if you're too happy or if you're too sad.

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