2018 releases on Tarbeach Records are underway with the eclectic debut album from Pepper Kings.
Over the years there have been a number of underground/alternative bands coming out of the USA that could be described as eccentric in their approach. Whether that be their image, style of music or song subject matter. I’m thinking the likes of Velvet Underground (with their bizarre tale “The Gift” on White Light/White Heat), through the 70’s of Devo and The B52’s up to the 80’s/90’s of Beat Happening or Daniel Johnson.
Add NYC’s Pepper Kings to that list. It is most refreshing to hear an album that sounds like the band is thoroughly enjoying itself. They are writing and playing for themselves, not trying too hard to please anyone else or “fit in” to a specific scene.
If you’ve heard any of their tracks on their EP – you’ll know where I’m coming from. Pepper Kings are hard to define with their mix of varied and diverse instrumentation, adept playing, bizarre lyrics and unconventional subject matter for their songs. The Tarbeach Records website describes them as “off-kilter punk rock avant-gardists”. That saves me trying to define them.
I was already familiar with a few of the songs from their EP1 and the Tarbeach compilation album, “No Animals Were Harmed…”. The tracks are all unique in their own right and all appear here on the album. “Shave the Leg”, “Hoot Owl” (features on both the EP and compilation CD), “Blimp Driver” and “Otto’s Tiki Bar”.
Pepper Kings album review
The album opens with the dissonant saxophone and rhythmic drums of “Stockholm Syndrome 66” the vocals delivered with a resonance similar to that of Calvin Johnson. The track sets out the tone nicely for the rest of the album.
The aforementioned “Shave the Leg” is a case in point in terms of off the wall subject matter/lyrics. The song is about, well, shaving your legs to ensure you don’t irritate your partner in bed. It includes lyrics about getting shouted at in the street to shave. The song has punchy keys and a vocal reminiscent of the eccentricity of Fred Schnieder. The first food related song “Hors D’Oevres” is another track that has a distinct B52’s/Devo feel from the outset.
“Hoot Owl” was the first Pepper Kings track I came across (having featured on the Tarbeach charity compilation). The onomatopoeic style of delivery of the hoots gives an indication of the continued fun and eccentricity featured in much of the bands output.
There are a few cautionary tales on the album. “Snake Bite Addiction” is the tale of a reptile obsessed individual who loves his snakes, or more accurately he likes to be bitten by his snakes. “You cannot say they love him back, but they do what they’re supposed to, they attack! “Otto’s Tiki Bar” is another such warning. This time with its musical leanings firmly based in country. The tale is of a young man excessively drinking in Otto’s and getting beaten up on leaving, giving warning to the dangers of others following in his footsteps.
Food features heavily in the curious, almost nursery rhyme styling of “My Square Body Ain’t no Hamburger”. However, as well as sounding as if they are having loads of fun, the band also has a serious side that makes you contemplate some serious issues. Songs like “Casino’s Mean Jobs” make a serious comment on US societal issues and how traditional American culture has been bulldozed, its satirical lyrics bolstered by a driving rhythm.
Variety of instruments
Angular jarring guitars feature heavily on “Blimp Driver”. This gives it an early 80’s post-punk feel similar to bands like Josef K and Fire Engines. While the sub two minute punk of “Worthless, Useless” sounds like it could have been recorded by Jello Biafra.
The variety of instruments used is added to again with harpsichord featuring heavily in “Pie in the Sky”. The more I hear of the album the more I would love to see this band live, I think it would be a highly entertaining evening. Its a pity I have no plans to be in NYC any time soon.
Keyboards appear again, along with more societal commentary. This time carnival organs complement the driving beats and frantic chant that is “Exchanging One Drug for Another” telling the oft heard story “Not a junkie, not an addict, I can stop it, I can stop it”
This album itself is highly addictive and entertaining, a great start to 2018 from Pepper Kings and Tarbeach Records.
The album is available now on CD and download.