Gutbucket: A Modest Proposal. Cuneiform Records. $18.98.
Give the decade-old hard-to-classify band Gutbucket credit for, well, guts. Bassist Eric Rockwin, saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Thomson, guitarist Ty Citerman and new-since-2007 drummer Adam Gold embrace their musical strangeness – call it eclecticism – with as much fervor as they grab their literary references. Gutbucket’s new, fourth album’s title is a nod to Jonathan Swift’s 18th-century solution to Irish starvation and overpopulation: he suggested that the adults eat their babies. The cover, showing a bird carrying another bird’s foot as food, hews to the cannibalism theme. One of the tracks, “I Am a Jelly Doughnut (Or a Commentary on U.S. German Relations Post WWII)” harks back to President John F. Kennedy’s famous attempt to show solidarity with the people of a divided city by proclaiming, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” which should have been “Ich bin Berliner,” because unfortunately the inclusion of “ein” meant he proclaimed himself a jelly doughnut.
But the titles are really just window-dressing for the music. Gutbucket is sort of jazz, sort of art-rock, sort of prog-rock – the band wears its “unclassifiable” label proudly and, one suspects, goes out of its way to live up to it. Certainly A Modest Proposal is all over the place, musically speaking. The first two tracks, “Head Goes Thud” and “A Little Anarchy Never Hurt Anyone,” are well constructed but not really very interesting – they don’t seem to go anywhere. But “Jelly Doughnut” picks things up and slams them around nicely, and is followed by “More More Bigger Better Faster with Cheese,” in which Gold (in his first studio appearance with Gutbucket) gets a drum solo, Thomson switches between sax and clarinet, and there is a pleasantly light, or at least light-ish, touch to the music.
The central track, or at least No. 5 out of 10, is “Carnivore,” which plays directly to the album’s supposed theme and is fairly straightforward, but well-done, prog-rock. Then come the mellow (or mellow-ish) “Doppelganger’s Return” and the strange, strong, freaked-out “Lucy Ferment?” – arguably the highlight of the CD, and a tough act to follow. What follows is “C’mon It’s Just a Dollar,” with its catchy guitar; “Side Effects,” which is just about pure jazz in the middle, bookended by squonk; and “Brain Born Outside of Its Head,” which starts quietly, ends furiously, but seems more formulaic than most of what Gutbucket delivers.
This band is a mixed bag, its music is a mixed bag, and its new CD is a mixed bag. There are some nice instrumental touches, such as Gold’s vibraphone in “Carnivore” and Thomson’s baritone (rather than alto) sax in “Brain Born Outside of Its Head,” and there is a pleasantly collaborative feeling to the music even when one or another player takes over for a solo. This isn’t really an effective “theme” album, though, and some listeners may be frustrated by Gutbucket’s refusal to settle into a particular style, or even several particular styles. Still, non-pigeonholing is a lot of what this band is about. Come to think of it, maybe that cannibalistic bird on the cover ought to have been a pigeon.