June 15, 2002

Badger King "the lighthouse, the giant"

In my opinion, more rock bands should take advantage of the element of surprise. Few things in music make my ears prick up more than the moment when an already good song takes an abrupt and unexpected detour into uncharted territory, especially if the tangent ends up being as good as, if not better than, the song's original idea. Take a chance! Interrupt your traditional guitar-bass-drums setup with a dulcimer solo, or a string quartet. Change keys. Switch from a professional studio recording to a low-fidelity four-track demo version mid-song. Add another bridge instead of repeating the chorus. Heck, don't even repeat the chorus at all! Show the audience that you want to maintain its interest. Whenever new music fails to excite me, I can always turn to my Swirlies, Polvo, and Thinking Fellers records for comfort because even after running them into the ground, I still don't get bored. I like bands that stitch ideas together like hyperactive dyslexic kids with glue, scissors, and construction paper. Bands like the aforementioned three are often criticized as disjointed and incoherent, and sometimes these criticisms are justified. I believe, though, that even when the music doesn't make any logical sense, a band with too many ideas is still better than a band with too few ideas.

The Badger King is definitely aligned with this attention-deficit-disorder aesthetic. On The Lighthouse, the Giant, they're an indie-pop quintet, but from what I've heard, they're touring in support of the album minus three members, and with the songs recast into an IDM framework. That alone should tell you how committed this band is to stylistic consistency. For sanity's sake, I'll stick to simply evaluating the record. If you can fathom a fusion of Mary Timony's lyrical fetish for exotic animals and pastoral scenes and the Microphones' symphonic fuzz-pop, then you have an idea of what this album sounds like. That's not even counting the detours into one-chord jamming ("I Obscenity" and "Red Ships of Spain"), Stereolab-style Moog funk (part two of "The She Trilogy"), bubbly electronic break beats ("Space Ox"), field recordings ("Great Birds"), and keyboard fugues straight out of a Yes record ("Interlude One," "The Coldest Feet"). In fifty-two minutes, these nineteen songs take enough twists and turns to leave my head dizzy. At first, I couldn't remember many of the songs because there was simply so much information in them to absorb. It only took two or three more listens, though, for half of the songs to take possession of my skull by force.

The lasting impact of these songs is due mainly to front woman Marianna Ritchey's strong sense of melody, as well as her ability to contain her whimsical musings inside more down-to-earth narratives. She has a clear, assertive, though obviously untrained voice. Sometimes her long-lined melodies force her to reach for notes that she can't quite hit, but the results rarely make me cringe. In fact, one of the Badger King's most obvious similarities to the Microphones is their love of zillion-tracked vocal harmonies, some of which are out of tune with each other, creating a pleasantly woozy effect not unlike that of My Bloody Valentine's whammy-bar histrionics. The chorus of "Home to England" asserts, "Tell me one reason why I ought to come home to you," and I'm not quite sure whether Ritchey is addressing the country, an ex-lover, or both. "The Fiasco Master" is a piano-driven elegy to a person who, up to his/her death, possessed a remarkable ability to handle private crises. Ritchey chides slackers on "You Aren't An Ark," an acoustic snippet that reminds me of the unjustly overlooked That Dog. "The Crab, the Claw" tells the story of a young girl from a nomadic family who learns first to become one with nature, and secondly to fear it. "To Touch Base" seems to be about an amicable breakup, at least until Marianna starts singing about seeing elephants in her dreams. Although the Badger King is clearly Marianna's show, she keeps her ego from dictating the arrangements, with boy/girl harmonies and ensemble playing employed more often than not.

This record arrived in my mailbox amidst a smorgasbord of anonymous indie-pop records that a publicity firm sent me, most of which I could already tell were going to bore the pants off of me from reading the verbose press releases. My hesitancy to give The Lighthouse, the Giant a fair chance was a huge mistake, because it is attention-deficit-disorder pop of the highest order. This record isn't being publicized very well, so you probably won't read about in many publications. (Hey, that's what Mundane Sounds is here for, right?) Therefore, I urge anyone reading this to take my advice. DO NOT LET THIS AMAZING RECORD GO UNNOTICED.

--Sean Padilla

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