The Dukenfields: Old Pal, Old Sock, Old Kid

First, a bit of trivia: Dukenfield was the surname of Philly-area-born showbiz legend WC Fields — and that’s where Philly-area rockers the Dukenfields got their name. The songs on their latest EP, Old Pal, Old Sock, Old Kid have a strong, tight post-grunge 90s sound that calls to mind the Gin Blossoms and Huffamoose with hints of Weezer and Third Eye Blind. Listen close for the cool, buzzing, retro synth line towards the end of the opening track, “Phillies 6-4.” And definitely check out the dreamy vibe of the closing track “Goodbye.” That one’s a waltz, by the way, which underscores what makes the Dukenfields so fun to listen to: they have a familiar sound like a comfortable old shoe (or old sock as the case may be), but they also have a few surprises up their collective sleeve.

You can listen to the Dukenfields on BandCamp and Spotify.

Review: Thompson Crowley – In Tongues EP

When I loaded Thompson Crowley’s In Tongues EP into iTunes, I got a message that said “Unknown Genre.”

Screen Shot 2017-11-25 at 9.55.22 AM

Fair enough, I suppose, as Crowley’s music defies easy categorization the same way most great recordings do. One of the big touchstones I’m hearing is The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, itself an album that’s difficult to fit into an obvious genre, but I’m also hearing hints of Bowie — particularly in some of the vocals — a pinch of Led Zeppelin and Robert Plant’s Eastern influences, and something approaching Harry Nilsson and Jens Lekman. I even picked up some Smiley-Smile era Beach Boys in a couple of places. Yet even as the EP drifts almost dreamily between rock, pop, folk, and world music, it hangs together beautifully as a coherent whole — clearly a labor of love recorded less as an exercise in pleasing the masses than as a heartfelt and skillful artistic statement.

Track-by-Track: “Spooky Spongecake”

Like other tracks on Thank You for Holding, “Spooky Spongecake” has a longer history than one might expect. I originally released a different version of this track as simply “Spongecake” about a year ago (and have since made it unavailable for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.) Here’s what I had to say about the track at the time:

I was sitting on the beach, and every iPod was playing Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” but they were all out of sync with each other. The song would be fading on one speaker and just starting on another. Or two would be playing almost simultaneously but not quite in sync with each other. The line that kept jumping out at me was “living on spongecake,” which I later learned was actually “nibblin’ on spongecake.” But when I thought it was “living,” the line really stuck with me because I thought, yeah, isn’t that pretty much what we’re all doing? Living on a media diet of spongecake and margaritas? Pretentious, I know, but a few days later, I went back to work, and the Xerox machine (which is actually a Canon) was grinding away, and that line was still in my head. This track is an attempt at capturing what it sounded like.

The original version of the track actually included a brief snippet of the Jimmy Buffett song that I looped and ran through various effects and filters so as to make it unrecognizable. All the same, I didn’t love the idea of having someone else’s voice from a hugely popular pop song on the track. My concerns weren’t just artistic. I also didn’t want to violate copyright law, so I took the track down from BandCamp and recorded a new version in which I’ve replaced Buffett’s voice (as well as his melody) with my own. I also changed the words a bit: “Groovin’ on spongecake.” That version was twice as long as this one and included synthesizers, guitar, and drums. It had a distinctly Depeche Mode feel.

I’ll also admit that this is one of the strangest tracks on the album. In a way, it’s in line with one of my larger projects as far as being a recording artist is concerned. While appreciate the form of the traditional three-minute pop song (as exemplified by “Margaritaville” and countless other songs that have graced the pop charts over the decades), I also like to explore other forms that recorded music can take.

Perhaps the best known version of this view of recording artistry is John Lennon’s “Revolution 9” from The Beatles (aka The White Album). In this track, Lennon spliced together sound effects and recordings to create a sound collage that left many fans scratching their heads in wonder. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” it wasn’t.

With “Spooky Spongecake,” I was trying to paint a creepy picture of an deserted workplace where only the copy machine and a malfunctioning music player are getting anything done. It’s essentially in line with some of the other songs in the “mini album” that begins with “Mellow Pleasant Spongecake” and ends with this track.

The “Mellow Pleasant” version of this song represents the robot from “Thank You for Holding” drifting into a reverie about the world outside. “Best Worst of Times” is a meditation on what the world was like before it ended. “Sweet Chocolate Jesus” gives us another answering machine repeating a meaningless message to no one. “66th and City” depicts an abandoned home in a world populated only by ghosts. And “Spooky Spongecake” returns us to the dreaming robot, only now the dream has turned sour.