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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mr. Fish: "Soft Serve Assault"

Let's talk about high school bands for a moment, shall we?  I absolutely loathe high school bands.  Their music is simplistic, predictable, and usually falls under the genres of punk, emo, or "screamo."  They live to mimic the exact sound of their favorite artists, with visions of rock stardom and groupies in their head.  I grew up in an area where nearly everyone had a band in high school.  None of them were all that good.  One or two have gone on to moderate success.  Let me reiterate:  I hate high school bands.  And it is for that reason that I'm a bit surprised by Mr. Fish, a high school band from Mission, Kansas.  The sound on this album, Soft Serve Assault, is really unique, and what does hearken back to other artists, they're typically from decades past. 

And that makes listening to Mr. Fish somewhat enjoyable, because I was pleasantly surprised by who their sound is influenced by (Frank Zappa, They Might Be Giants, and other silly, fun acts).  The lead-off track, "Hillbilly Death Cry," is in no way impressive.  An instrumental rock track, it really does do a great job of showing how limited this band really is at such a young age.  But listening to it makes you appreciate the next song that much more.  "Redundancy" is a simple song, with what originally seem like rather depressing lyrics.  When Kyle Little says of a man, "He got a gun and put a bullet in his mouth," it's a bit shocking.  Then when everybody else puts a bullet in their mouth, you start to realize that this might all be a bit tongue in cheek.  It's quite the catchy song.  The chorus, in particular, has been stuck in my head for days now.

"Octopus Ride" is a sillier affair, with Little singing "I wanna ride on the octopus," during the song's chorus.  The song has an appropriately "beachy" feel to it; light with syncopating pianos and distant harmonies.  Like its predecessor, it's also a very catchy song.  It almost makes me want to take a ride on the octopus, but then I remember that I'm deathly afraid of those things.  "S.O.L.VE.N.T." is a rambunctious track in which Little shelves singing to do some talking about, what else, solvents.  He says, "Want something to make the ladies' knees go weak? Memorize the list of these solvents I speak," just before he goes and lists off a bunch of those solvents.  There is a really cool synth that plays in the back throughout the song.  It finally comes through with a really awesome solo during the breakdown.  This is one of my favorites on the album, for sure.

From here, the album takes a bit of a detour.  "American Hands" is a well-made song, with small saxophone flourishes and appropriate crescendos and falls, but Little's melody is nowhere near as impressive as it has been thus far.  This seems to be the band's "radio song," the most mainstream-friendly track on the album.  It's got a southern rock feel to it, but I'm simply not digging it. On "Venom", guitarist Nathan Goldman takes over on vocals.  His voice is on par with Little's, and the song itself is upbeat and catchy for a while.  Ultimately it just winds up being far too repetitive for me.  Lacking a true chorus really hurts this song, as it just makes you feel like you're listening to the same thing over and over again (which you kind of are).  "Gimme Some Rope" is the album's downer, a southern rock/country music whiskey ballad.  Little sings "Gimme some rope/ I wanna tie a knot around my brain," and I wish him good luck as I skip ahead to the next track.

That may have seemed mean, but honestly, I just can't get enough of "(I Wanna Get My Ass To) Space," a funky, Zappa-inspired song about the planets and (clearly) Little's unfailing desire to visit all of them (except for Pluto).  The song is hilarious in an "LOL" kind of way.  He sings, "On earth people might make fun of you/ but in space it doesn't matter 'bout your unfortunate haircut."  My favorite part, however, has to be when he yells out "Pluto" while a chorus of shouters holler back, "Hell no!"  It is a silly song, to be sure, but it's also an absolute blast to listen to.  "Th' Ballad of Salad" is equally as ludicrous, but more in the vein of a 50s ballad doo-wop ballad.  Little makes sure to note that "any kind of salad" is his "favorite dish," and even though that makes me think so much less of him, I can't help but adore this track.  The album ends with "Superfamous," an upbeat punk song about how the band is going to know.  They don't seem to mean it seriously (as is the theme with most of the album), but having no previous knowledge of the band and not knowing them personally really makes this song a whole lot less interesting than it should have been.

Overall, Mr. Fish is a high school band that is brave enough to forge their own path in the music world.  You don't see that often, and frankly, I've never seen it at all.  Soft Serve Assault isn't the greatest album in the world, but it showcases the band's talent, humor, and charm well enough to make me want to keep an eye out for the band in the future (or, at the very least, add 'em as friends on myspace).  In a world where musicians take themselves waaaay too seriously, it's refreshing to hear a group of guys who can just play music, have fun, and not care what others think.  If they go the route of most high school bands, they'll be broken up by the time they all get to college.  But for what it's worth, I'm really hoping that's not the case.  

Key Tracks:
1. "Redundancy"
2. "Octopus Ride"
3. "S.O.L.V.E.N.T."
4.  "(I Wanna Get My Ass To) Space"
5. "Th' Ballad of Salad"

6 out of 10 Stars

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