By Aaron Stein

And now for something completely different. Well, not completely, but different all the same. Drums & Tuba, the band that makes art in real time, is out with a new album, and for a little change of pace, they’ve added some lyrics, words, and vocals.

At first listen, my impression was that the music of Drums and Tuba needs vocals like Los Angeles needs snow. Sure it’s interesting in concept, but in practice it’s a bit messy and didn’t we move to L.A. to get away from this shit? Giving it another shot, and then another and then another, the concept grew on me, but only slightly. I’ve decided that I’m not against it as an idea, but here on this album, Battles Ole, it doesn’t quite work.

Part of the problem is that you can’t understand what’s being sung, mostly, it appears, by drummer Tony Nozero. The vocal style is closer to screaming than singing, and there’s an off-kilter minor-key component of the D&T sound that doesn’t quite lend itself to easy-to-follow lyrical narratives. Perhaps in future attempts, a guest vocalist (I’m imagining some pitch-perfect Bjork-esque female wailing) might sound better.

Beyond that, the album also features a handful of special guests, including Ben Ellman and Rich Vogel from Galactic on sax and organ, respectively, and Molly Pate on French horn on one track. These appearances further the notion that this isn’t quite a Drums & Tuba album. The song with Vogel and Ellman feels more like a loosely structured jam session, which is fun and interesting but gets away from the tight-knit layered majesty of the core trio. Somehow, guitarist Neil McKeeby is all but lost in the sound for much of the album.

I think I’m coming off as a bit too negative toward Battles Ole, but I will confess the album is starting to grow on me. There are moments where the sound clicks and the genius of the band shines through. I am not averse to some innovation from these guys. I would look at some of these shortcomings as necessary growing pains and look forward to their next effort.

[Published on: 9/12/05]

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