The McLovins: Conundrum

By: Bill Clifford

It just doesn't seem fair that kids this young could be as talented as this trio of Connecticut-based teenagers. But The McLovins' nine-track debut CD, Conundrum, proves they are indeed just that. Prodigious!

The band was discovered via the Phantasy Tour messageboards, where a fan linked a YouTube video of the band covering Phish's "You Enjoy Myself." Two of the band members, bassist Jason (basslovin) Ott and Jeff (Axlovin) Howard bare a resemblance to the McLovin character from the movie Superbad, hence the name. Drummer Jake (drumlovin) Huffman handles the vocals.

The CD opens with "Purple Trees" written in homage to the Phantasy Tour fans. Listening, it's easy to hear the influence of Phish on the young musicians, both lyrically and musically: "The only way to out run a bear is to run down a hill." The rhythm is cadent through the first half of the song, and then speeds up as the tempo and soloing builds. "Bri(in Memory of)" is an instrumental song written in honor of a fan who recently passed away. You get a fine sense of the tightness and musical acumen these three teenagers share listening to this track, though they've known each other just over a year.

"Killing Time" is the most musically complex arrangement on the CD, with several key and time transitions based around a single lyrical theme. It begins with a slow, mid-tempo jazzy groove, moves into hard, driving funk and finally morphs into a psychedelic swirl of classic rock. The lyrical theme of transcendence, floating above, is the only constant: "I can't believe that this is really me/ I close my eyes, but still I see." Huffman offers his best vocal performance on this song.

Several of the songs are based on a shared love of Norton Juster's children's book, The Phantom Tollbooth. "Sea Of Wisdom" nods to classic jazz musically and to the book's "Sea of Knowledge" lyrically. "Dynne" (pronounced din) on the other hand, is another psychedelic rocker written from the perspective of a character that collects sounds, pleasant or unpleasant. "Rhyme & Reason" is a confectioner's delight, a sugary sweet pop single with rhythmic guitar licks sure to be a hit with the kids. The title track is another instrumental song that shows the musical dexterity of the trio and Howard's guitar prowess.

Like any improvisational band, The McLovins need to be experienced in performance, where ninth-grader Howard absolutely shreds, but Conundrum will go a long way towards appeasing the fan base they've begun to accrue simply by word of mouth.

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[Published on: 8/24/09]

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