All the Apparatus
Artist: All the Apparatus
Produced by: Faultvo Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
There are quite a few indie bands out there that for some reason, never seem to get signed. It’s a shame really because many of these bands are incredibly talented and probably would get signed given half a chance. But mainstream radio refuses to acknowledge the indie scene, and if you don’t have access to an indie radio station, you’re out of luck. That’s why I love reviewing independent artists - to get their name out there and expose their music to people who may never have been given the opportunity to check their music out. This week, the Oregon-based band All the Apparatus grabbed my attention.
All the Apparatus is an eleven piece band with as sound self-described as avant-garde dirty gypsy klezmer jazz indie anti-folk rock. The band features Michael C. Hansen on bass; Al Rosales on guitar and accordion; Jenna Chidester on cello, Bremen McKinney on accordion and percussion; Kathleen Majdali on ukulele and recorder; Sherrilyn Edgar on glockenspiel, omnichord, melodica and bowed psaltery; Dustin Geddes on trumpet and synthesizer; Erika Marler on kalimba and PVC drum; Ezra Frantz trombone and percussion; John England-Fisher on trumpet and Nate Gehrman on drums. That’s quite a cast of characters and quite a diverse list of instruments for one band. The band got its beginnings performing in the streets of Hawaii, on the beaches of Waikiki. Catching the eye of journalists in the area, they received numerous newspaper write-ups that led to a number of club dates and eventually some music festivals. In late 2009, the band co-headlined with Portland guest band Blitzen Trapper. Soon afterward, All the Apparatus picked up and moved to Portland, Oregon, selling nearly 10,000 copies of their debut album, Lawless Seas. The band just recently released a new self-titled sophomore album and I couldn’t resist taking a listen.
From the very first track, I knew this band was unique. Hat Trick tells the tale of a serial killer disguised as a magician who has a particular interest in the female members of his audience: “Hocus Pocus, Alakazam / Abracadabra we have a cadaver / Now she’ll disappear!” Needless to say, that song got my attention. It reminded me of another indie group with a unique style known as Rasputina. Following this track is a lighthearted indie rock song that sounds like it may have been written by a little kid: “Let’s go outside and go ride bikes / Let’s go outside and go…ride bikes / Your sister looks like Donkey Kong / Your sister looks just like Donkey Kong…” Then we come to another indie rock song featuring trumpets and other instruments you wouldn’t customarily hear in a rock song. In Aeronaut, the lead singer is soaring high in a huge red balloon, able to see the world and its intricacies in a brand new light. We get the idea that the singer likes it this way and doesn’t want to heed the call from Earth to return.
Then we get to a song that confused me some - a band from Hawaii, playing in Portland, performing like the best zydeco band I ever heard. The Valley is about a soldier off to war who can’t wait to return to his best girl. Then we head onward to another song that sounds like it got its roots from the music of New Orleans. Chains of Damnation is a gruffly sung song in which the lead singer knows he’s headed for hell, “but in the meantime, I’ll drink to women and wine”. In other words, if he’s going to hell, he might as well have some fun. The next track, Wolf Song, has a Native American feel. Mostly instrumental, the lyrics don’t really get going until about three minutes into the song, but by then, we are completely absorbed in the beauty of the recorder, bells and harmonic voices.
Then we hit the hard rock of the song called Worm. I honestly have no idea what they’re saying, but the song is scary and happily short. The eighth track, Human Being, also sounds like it has its roots in New Orleans and I love the great variety of instruments heard blending on this track. Portland Rose has a sort of jazz meets indie rock feel. There’s a stalker-esque quality in the lyrics of the song with the lead singer confessing his love to someone who he has never actually met, extremely frightening in quality when the scream fest begins (but in a good way that adds to the feeling in the song). Dance Hit is an interesting mix of jazz meets dance and hip-hop. A really strange mix, but interesting all the same.
Great Whale has a folksy, yet lively sound with lyrics that seem to outline an individual’s quest for self-discovery. The final song, Pancho Villa is a fun instrumental track with Mexican influence and a party attitude.
The self-description of All the Apparatus’ sound is quite accurate in that you can’t pin this group to one particular style. In addition, each track has a different person singing lead and a different individual writing the lyrics. Each band member lends their own influence to every song. Many of the instruments used by the band members are not your every day instruments. All of these elements combine to give us one of the most unique sounds I have ever heard from a band. I had a lot of fun listening to All the Apparatus as there was never a dull moment on the album. Each track brought you something new and I found myself looking forward to what interesting things I might find on the next track. After my first listen to this self-titled twelve-track CD, I had to listen to it again. And all the while, I was smiling. That marks the true test of a great indie band - the ability to give a listener something new each time they listen without taking that smile off their face. Kudo, All the Apparatus - you’ve won over a new fan all the way on the other side of America!