Review of Jolly Green Giant

From the October 28, 2005 TRIFECTAgram written by Alan Young.
Choice pick: Twin Turbine – Jolly Green Giant

Their breakout album. Twin Turbine always had a great sound: a heavy, Gibson guitar-driven roar anchored by fat bass and a pummeling rhythmic assault – but their songs careened in and out of focus. This album, their second, is their quantum leap. For a band whose live show relies so heavily on volume and energy, this is a remarkably subtle and accessible cd. In a year that saw the NYC underground put out a whole slew of great releases, this could easily be the best of the bunch.

Twin Turbine shatters the longstanding myth that loud guitar bands can’t be subtle, poignant or even all that intelligent. Jolly Green Giant blends a rich variety of guitar textures – roar, crunch and jangle – throughout frontman/guitarist Dave Popeck’s uniquely multifaceted songwriting, a style he calls "heavy pop." It’s a style that’s hard to characterize. Most of Twin Turbine’s midtempo songs are too slow to fit the punk rock category. Their faster numbers are riff-oriented, but without the guitar noodling and grand guignol posturing that would send them over the edge into heavy metal. What they all have in common is an uncompromising dedication to the catchy melodic hook and a consistent lyrical intelligence that runs from political to surreal to flat-out funny. The album begins with the ominous Fade for Sunday, dissolution and madness hovering just inches away. "Fade for Sunday," Popeck intones, like Roger Waters doing his best Darth Vader impression. "I’m not ready." The album’s first single, Downsizer is a timely, lyrically-driven 60s-style mod song seen through the prism of punk, evoking the Stiff Little Fingers classic Piccadilly Circus and probably influenced by Popeck’s tenure as lead guitarist in the Lower East Side mod-punk supergroup the Dog Show. The cd’s next track, Made for TV Murder reverts to an eerie, menacing, hallucinatory feel, the chromatics of the verse suspensefully building toward the chorus’ pain-wracked, righteous rage.

The cd’s crowning glory - and the single best song of this band’s career, so far - is the haunting, evocative Susquehanna. Opening with an insistently rueful minor-key riff and then settling into a swaying, country groove, it’s the spot-on evocation of rust belt angst that people like Springsteen have sought for years to capture but never could. This one nails it. But all is always not so dark on Twin Turbine’s side of the moon: the cd also includes the bellowing, AC/DC inflected Stop This Thing, which makes its point clear beyond any question, the catchy, Dead Boys-meet-Hendrix anthem Love, Rock & Roll with its paint-peeling wah-wah guitar intro and mammoth hooks; the Stoogoid 6/8 blues Womankind and the scorching b-side Both Kinds, which takes a catchy 60s garage melody that would fit perfectly on an early Love record and recasts it as a crunchy riff-rocker.

Jolly Green Giant also happens to be the best-produced cd of the year by a country mile, the latest success to come out of NYC’s studio du jour (maybe studio du decade), South Williamsburg’s Lucid Production. Popeck’s guitars and Jim Dadey’s bass fade in and out of a seamless whole: the album sounds like the band is playing live in a club with a great PA, instead of an amalgamation of seemingly unrelated, obviously overdubbed instruments popping up in random corners of the sonic spectrum. Ed Blomquist’s drums are appropriately in the back of the mix but have a fat, distinct feel: this cd will sound good even on a cheap boombox. Producer Kurt Leege also gets major props for how he handled the vocals: he actually has Popeck singing, on key, as opposed to bellowing like he does in concert. No producer has done so much to bring out a vocalist’s unexpected subtleties since Ric Ocasek came to Lloyd Cole’s rescue on Cole’s first album, Rattlesnakes, 20 years ago.

It’s also worth mentioning that Popeck worked out the arrangements for the album over the course of a nightlong Las Vegas bender during which he consumed 28 (twenty-eight) whiskey and cokes. And recorded some of the vocals the night he was rushed off to the emergency room in an ambulance, just minutes away from imminent death. And lived to tell both tales. It doesn’t get any more rock n roll than that. As subtle and sonically lush as this album is, the band goes off on a bender onstage: earplugs are recommend. Twin Turbine play the cd release for Jolly Green Giant at Arlene Grocery at 10:30 PM on Friday, December 2.