Jookabox Dead Zone Boys

[Asthmatic Kitty/Joyful Noise; 2009]

Styles: experimental, indie rock
Others: Liars, Ween, early to middle period Butthole Surfers

Phantoms, zombies, and evil girls (guhs), oh my: there is sometimes a very fine line between self-indulgent concept and clever, palatable allegory. Luckily, Jookabox (formerly Grampall Jookabox, and in both instances a stylus name for Indianapolis-bred David Adamson) has the requisite caustic wit and musical inventiveness to make this latest release fall squarely into the latter category.

Following 2008's bouncier, brighter Ropechain, Dead Zone Boys has Adamson and his co-conspirators upping the darkness and distress with effective results. Rather than coming off as a DIY R&B obsessive in the vein of Beck, this album has a distinctly industrial feel. While layered, tom-tom-heavy rhythmic patterns and otherworldly synths have been used on earlier releases, here they become the foundation of the album. Still apparent is Adamson's vocal pitch-shifting fetish, adding interesting timbres to the mix as the album progresses. "Phantoms Don't Go," however, kicks things off with the most unprocessed vocals that we get, coming off primordially with its wallop of drone. Other tracks share a similar aesthetic, but there are outliers as well: the frenetic "You Cried Me" is a nice example, sounding like a folk duo with one member on crystal meth while the other tries to calm her down.

But even among the songs anchored by those overdriven drums, a track like "East Side Bangs/East Side Fade" stands out as more noir-ish R&B than booming industrial. And the constant fluctuation of vocal tones gives the sequence of songs a fragmented, schizophrenic feel appropriate to the post-apocalyptic milieu it's striving for; it also puts it in a sonic league with those early tape-manipulated classics by The Butthole Surfers.

However, with such willful experimentation, there are bound to be missteps, and Dead Zone Boys is not without them. After a stellar first two-thirds, monotony sets in on "Zombie Tear Drops," which has a bit of a plodding quality due to the combination of its relatively diminished bottom end and reduced tempo. Within its first minute, it's worn out any welcome, and even though "Lights" picks things up a bit with its terse urgency, "F.I.T.F. #1" closes things out with a fizzle. Ultra-slowed vocals drool the refrain of "Faith in the fuckin' again." I'm all for musicians not taking themselves too seriously, but with such audacious, irreverent, and yet captivating material populating the bulk of the album, it is a supreme letdown to finish on such strangely muddled notes. Still, Dead Zone Boys is worth some serious attention.

1. Phantom Don't Go
2. Don't Go Phantom
3. You Cried Me
4. Gonna Need the Guns/Doom Hope
5. East Side Bangs/East Side Fade
6. Glyphin' Out
7. Evil Guh
8. XXXiawn Shell
9. Zombie Tear Drops
11. F.I.T.F #1

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