The first couple of times I listened to this new Foxy Shazam album, I thought it was terrible. No, I can be more accurate: I thought it was piss poor. My biggest complaint was that the vocals sounded as though they were recorded on a cheap, old blank cassette that sold for 99 cents back in 1988. You know, the sort that those of us who are getting up there in years used to use to make mixtapes and copies of our friends’ tapes back in the day. And by back in the day I’m obviously referring to the days before just anyone could burn themselves a CD. But this isn’t about my old music rituals so I digress. But I must conclude this paragraph by stating that Eric Sean Nally’s vocals here didn’t even sound like they were recorded on a high bias blank cassette, just one of the cheaper variety blank tapes that came with built-in background hiss.
Well, now that I’ve lived with Gonzo for roughly a month and I’ve listened to it six or seven times, I still think the vocals sound poorly. Maybe not as bad as something recorded on an old cassette, but, still, they do sound rather muffled, like there’s a wall between the singer and the rest of the band that’s preventing us from hearing him clearly. They just sound muffled. Plus, they’re too low in the mix. At least for my tastes. So, sorry, I can’t give this one a rave review. That said, now that I’ve listened to it so many times, I can state that this album is a grower. Not in a huge way, but, slowly, it does rub off on you. For me, the trick was to basically tune out the vocals, to pretend I’m listening to one of my foreign language releases where I couldn’t understand the vocals anyway. Once I stopped stressing over the vocals by doing that, I found myself able to appreciate the songs’ wonderful, blaring horns and often ambitious arrangements with the ways those horns interact with the guitars, bass, drums and other occasional sounds. Some of these songs are very simple, yes, but others are more elaborate. And it’s those horns that have made me fall in like with the album. They breathe life into the songs, even letting them soar at times. “Brutal Truth” and “Poem Pathetic” are two prime examples of that. Sans horns, the songs would just sound like old demos by an early ’90’s hair band. But the horns make them sound more like previously unheard ’70’s rock. The other element that makes the songs likeable is the bass guitar, which sometimes sounds groovy and at others sounds just plain funky, such as on “Shoe Box,” the rare song that doesn’t need horns to shine. The bass guitar parts during the verses alone make it worth a listen. Especially since they’ve self-released it and they’re giving it away for free. Which is probably because even they know it’s nothing compared to their previous albums, which might have to do with the fact that it was recorded live with all of the members of the band in the same room. The surprising thing, though, is that it was produced by Steve Albini, who’s worked with everyone from Nirvana to PJ Harvey to Cloud Nothings, so you’d think he would have been able to get a better sounding vocal and render it less muffled in the mix. But one gets the feeling that the problem here was the band, not the producer. Without a pro like Albini at the helm, this would have been an even bigger mess, the sort that even a sucker like I couldn’t fall in like with.
Get your free copy of Gonzo here: http://fs-gonzo.bandcamp.com/