THE CRAVATS – Hoorahland (Overground Records)

HoorahlandThe Cravats’ Hoorahland whirls complex rock, punk, and jazz into a narcotic hurly-burly of melodic musical defiance.

But is it folk? Well, I have a “born in the U.S.A.” friend who is 1/32 Puerto Rican (on his mother’s side), and that qualifies him for that country’s Olympic wrestling team. It’s something like that.

But as my friend, Kilda Defunt, often says, “All great art must have a deep root that touches tradition, and if music doesn’t connect to the past, well, then the record sounds like Boy George and Culture Club”.

And, as Kilda also often says, “This ain’t that”.

But, as reference points, these grooves can claim more than 1/32 genetic linage to The Edgar Broughton Wasa Wasa Band, Peter Hammill’s Rikki Nadir alter-ego and dystopic Pawn Hearts VDGG, the early sax pumped and later Starless And Bible Black King Crimson, The Stranglers’ Rattus Norvegicus, Magazine’s Secondhand Daylight, The Fall’s Live At The Witch Trials, Screaming Lord Sutch (and his heavy friends), Bobby Pickett’s ‘Monster Mash’, anything by The Cardiacs, and, of course, the very loveable Bonzo Dog Band.

So, as Kilda, is equally prone to say, “This is that”.

But to the music: A horn just howls and ‘Goody Goody Gum Drops’ rocks with catchy anarchy. The lyrics lurch over dada words while the guitar and sax pump even more hydrogen into the universe. “Shy” confesses anger like X-Ray Spec’s ‘Oh! Bondage Up Yours!’, and the Psychedelic Fur’s ‘India’.

And that Jericho horn just continues to howl. ‘Same Day’ is driving rock with nary a moment to breathe. The Mekons’ album Rock ‘n’ Roll comes to mind. ‘Good For You’ gets weird in a fun house mirror sort of way. The song is a strange dance that could have made the Rocky Horror soundtrack or an early Van Der Graaf Generator album (but not necessarily in that order!). ‘Oh How We Laughed’ is a sax spooked (sort of) instrumental ride into dark space, like a siren’s alluring call into Black Hole mystery.

Now, in his book Close To The Edge: How Yes’s Masterpiece Defined Prog Rock, Will Romano writes, “I have, for some time, made a connection between the hypnotic one-chord Delta blues music (and even some of the electric Chicago blues) classical Indian, Celtic music, and prog rock”.

This album, in its own complex rock, punk, and jazz way, is that, too.

And, by the way, this is yet another rock‘n’roll resurrection. The original band formed in the punk heydays of 1977, and released a final EP in 1985. Original members The Shend (vocals) and Svor Naan (sax) reignited the band in 2016 with new guys Viscount Biscuits (guitar), Joe 91 (bass), and Rampton Garstang (drums).

But back to the music. Ah, ‘There Is No God’ has a self-explanatory lyric that, oddly, manages at least one “hallelujah”. This one rocks with Crimson guitar prog business. Yeah, there’s a Fripp guitar vortex that decries any ‘Great Deceiver’ with “cigarettes, ice cream, and figurines of the Virgin Mary”, and who lies about all things metaphysical.

Of course, “March Of The Business Acumen” conjures a tune from Henry Cow or those spin-of Art Bears, except, this gets sort of full-throated funky with tough guitar chords, with marvelous muffled strings ala Tull’s ‘Locomotive Breath’.

And then the rock ‘n’ roll dam breaks. ‘Trees & Birds & Flowers & Sky’ simply rocks. This is the stuff Peter Hammill concocted through his Rikki Nadir alter ego and rebuffed prog rock and embraced “the beefy punk songs, the weepy ballads, the soul struts”. Put simply: This is exciting rock music. ‘Jam Rabbits’ recalls the odd side of Andy Partridge’s ethos with an English Settlement sound that is seasoned with sapid Eastern spices. ‘Morris Marina’ plays a poker hand of dense and spellbinding ageless rock ‘n’ roll sinister sounds.

The final tune, ‘Hoorahland’, again, gets funky and bulges the beat while riding an electric Talking Heads’ current that flares the dancefloor lights and sings with a heavy nod to any pretty great (and old ball) Pere Ubu Dub Housing tune.

You know, temper is an odd word. It implies the toughness of an iron alloy sword, yet it also assuages iron alloy anger. Go figure. But that’s the gist of this record: It waves the flags of rock, punk, jazz and even, perhaps, 1/32 of a folk entry into an Olympic contest. It welds the soft stuff into the hard stuff. And then it simply, with sparks galore, vibrates great rock ‘n’ roll with deviously clever off-kilter tunes and always sublimely adamantine jukebox music.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website: https://www.thecravats.com/

‘Shy’ – official video: