When people in my position need a short cut, a quick way to establish a territory for the New York City band Life in a Blender, the names Waits and Beefheart offer themselves to help describe frontman Don Rauf’s cultured, barking madness and the bawdy, eccentric Rococo of the band’s chamber-rock arrangements. Once you’ve found the region, however, forget those hallowed landmarks; they’re really not very nearby at all. You’re left the Interstate now and will have to go off-road entirely to locate this idiosyncratic, high-energy veteran band.
Life in a Blender’s eighth and newest release, We Already have Birds That Sing, is beefy for an EP – seven tracks clocking in at barely over 20 minutes – but Rauf’s lyrics and vocals are an importunate headful that won’t leave you alone, and the arrangements sprout genuine, commanding surprises every 20 to 30 seconds. At times, on tracks like “Shards,” it sounds like the band is calling on all its imaginative resources to score a libretto by an LSD diarist. But, generally, pop pith, tight forms and an energy not inconsistent with partying prevail. It’s roots-ravaging chamber pop, with accents noir, soul, redneck and surreal garage.
There’s a political edge that is New Wave if not exactly punk. Rauf’s lyrics illustrate the difference between meaning and message. Every line buzzes with meaning, specificity, evocation, implication, reference and raw, emotional purpose. But if the new statewide, mandatory Adult English Language Arts Common Core exam asks you to summarize the thesis, using details from the text to support your answer…well, good luck with that. Best to just enjoy the bumpy, swerving and oddly graceful ride.
A legendary live band in the City, Life in a Blender celebrates the release of We Already have Birds That Sing upstate at BSP on Thursday, April 17. Also on the bill is another notable figure from the New York scene: the distinctive songwriter and guitarist Chris Maxwell. Maxwell and his friends in Skeleton Key proved – in the mid-‘90s, on Capitol Records – that the heft and the decibels of grunge could be fused organically with dark cabaret, urban circus and found-object New York art rock. Sneak peeks of Maxwell’s current work, however, describe a very different place: Lush, layered but modest in delivery, the tracks variously evoke the Lennon piano ballad, the muted roots/pop maximalism of Wilco and some of that hushed and exquisite micro-melody that we associate with Elliot Smith. Maxwell’s band for the occasion will include local/national heavyweights like Dan Hickey and Marco Benevento.
Life in a Blender, Chris Maxwell & the Sweet Clementines, Thursday, April 17, 8 p.m., $8, 18+, BSP, 323 Wall Street, Kingston; (845) 481-5158, www.bspkingston.com.