Charlemagne. Katydid. The Arty Bastard. With such creative band member names, you’d expect their CD, Detour Allure, to be, well…creative. Their music is enlighteningly relaxing and mellow, yet proves ineffective at displaying anything we haven’t heard before, even with the eclectic mix of people involved in its recording.
Carl Johns, the man who is Charlemagne, lived in the Midwest for most of his life. Music was always around; he was playing drums while growing up in Indiana before moving to Madison eight years ago, where he took up guitar. After spending five years touring with the group Noahjohn, he teamed up with The Arty Bastard (keyboards and graphic design) to co-produce his new record. On it, Katydid and Ladybird round out the vocals, while A12 and The Equalizer join in on drums and bass, respectively.
Strewn amidst the musicians’ plethora of aliases, one can only wonder what they’re trying to hide. Breezy instrumentals combined with mysterious lyrics lead the listener to empty questions about existence. One of the most lyrically strong tunes, “Nematode,” near-concludes with “Every parent is an elongated infant/yes/but not all of us need/replicate desire/or even pleasure/in order to feel/ that we have left our manifest yes on earth.”
However, it seems that every upside on the album has a matching pitfall. “Tell Me,” a minute-and-a-half long ‘song,’ contains solely the lyrics, “Tell me what you want.” Even while ridden with strong drum beats, it’s easy to see through the cloudy haze of guitar distortion to the blatant fact that if I had the opportunity to tell him what I want, it would be for him to leave this track off the album.
Although lyrically strong, for the most part, other aspects of the album stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. Desperately dry vocals performed by Katydid, one of two females on the album, are comparably worse to that of Ladybird or Charlemagne himself. The latter two provide a lackadaisical complement to the already relaxed instrumentals, while Katydid seems to do nothing but irritatingly twang her already screechy voice. Another issue lies in the fact that almost every song sounds exactly the same. While lyrically each serves a drastically different purpose, “Nematode” and “I Heard Something” both contain near-identical chord progressions and leading female vocals.
I’ll hand it to him – Charlemagne’s disc does have some positives. It proves to be lyrically strong, not to mention that the album does give off a calming vibe of psychedelic laziness. After listening to the overall lack of musicianship on his album though, it draws me to the conclusion that he should have produced a poetry collection, not a CD. Also, the artists’ pseudonyms make me feel like they are all in a musical version of the WWE, and I’m just the confused bystander. Bottom line: the tranquil tendencies and inquisitive lyrics will take you places, but the tainted vocals and tunes will just drag you down the entire way.