It's been a while since a new artist has overwhelmed me; I haven't been instantly taken hostage by an album in ages. Sure, some records have impressed me. I've heard some really great, really beautiful records this year, some of them will be (or should be) considered classics five years from now, but none of them hit me instantly; Many of them required multiple listens. None of them were from artists I had not heard of before. Iowa's Troubled Hubble, though, has seemingly broken that dry spell. Though Making Beds in a Burning House is the band's fifth album--and debut for new label Lookout!--it's the first time I've heard them, and I have to say--I've missed out.
First things first: it's an instant love affair with lead singer Chris Otepka. It's a fine line between clever and stupid, and he knowingly disregards all concern for such matters. It's a risky proposition, but Otekpa's risk is ultimately rewarding. Otepka sings in a style that's smart but not smarmy; his lyrics are funny but not sarcastic, and his voice is smooth and sweet, and you can't help but think he's singing with a big smile on his face. (Of course, if you'd written such unique and fascinating lyrics, you'd be singing with a smile on your face, too) Thankfully, his voice exudes a certain level of maturity, so he's able to say weird, silly things and not sound weird or silly.
See, Otepka can turn a phrase quicker than anyone I've heard all year. Sounding as if he'd been weaned on a healthy diet of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "It's The End of the World As We Know It," (especially on the excellent "Ear, Nose, Throat") Otepka spits out some really, really excellent rhymes and lines. Topics range from songs about politics to songs about keeping a positive attitude and even songs with absolutely no meaning at all, but it doesn't mater, because Otepka approaches every issue with the same amount of Otepka magic--a magic formed by years of watching cartoons, drinking too much coffee and being aware of pop culture.
Those lyrics, though! Consider, then, the following phrases, exhumed and displayed for your edification:
"I know there's mistakes that go along with youth/So choose to replace or take them with you/and I feel so bad now that I'm so old, so angry, so broke so unhappy, tattooed and ugly ("14,000 Things To Be Happy About")
"Love is happiness/And happiness is free/It's a lie that we're told and try to believe/God is love and Love is the Devil/What is your type? You say, 'I've got several'" (from "To Be Alive and Alone")
"Finally I'm right/Finally you're wrong/Finally I dance with confidence to songs/That sing/Of hope/And love/And truth/When you're nothing/You're still something/You're molecules." (from "I'm Pretty Sure I Can See Molecules")
"You know what they say about passing ships?/They're old ladies in leopard print/Who've lived their lives with telescopes/ Who've made mistakes but are now too old." ("Floribraska")
"Las Vegas, last places, lost energy converges, from outer desert spaces like gasses escaping through holes in our layers, are there holes in our prayers when we pray for ourselves before others?" ("Jackpot Stampede Deluxe")
As you can see, Otepka is a clever boy, but it must be noted that his cleverness wouldn't be quite as great without a sharp backing band. The band has the ability to create melodies that are as strong and as tight as any kind of lyrical twist Otepka can throw at them. If Troubled Hubble made instrumental rock, you'd still think they write excellent lyrics. Though they might be accused of taking a few cues from bands like The Dismemberment Plan and Clem Snide, their sound and a style is truly their own--highly rhythmic, highly caffeinated and quite fun. And yes, "I'm Pretty Sure I Can See Molecules," "14,000 Things To Be Happy About" and "Even Marathon Runners Need to Nap" are as funny and as clever as their titles!
Troubled Hubble would have been considered "the next big thing" five years ago. They would have had a big record deal and middling success ten years ago. Now, in 2005, the world's just learning of them, and that's fine. Some will tell you that patience is a virtue that's rewarded with success. After years of obscurity, they've reached a wider audience, and Making Beds in a Burning House is a damn good record. Listening to the other song samples on their website, it's obvious that their magic is no mere fluke; they've had it all along. That the world's just now hearing what they have to say is a good thing, for them and for us; Troubled Hubble grew up and got through those awkward years in obscurity, only to present the world with one hell of a formal debut. Making Beds in a Burning House is, without a doubt, one of this year's best records.
Artist Website: http://www.troubledhubble.com
Label Website: http://www.lookoutrecords.com