The credit list on Ratboy, Jr.’s Hamster Pants – a dense block of titles, names and digits that dominates half of the digipak’s interior – speaks to the new CD’s epic, crafted and hyper-detailed quality. For the latest chapter of their 20-year creative partnership, Timmy Sutton and Matty Senzatimore solicited contributions from players all over their spheres of musical connection and, working with producer and multi-instrumentalist Dean Jones, choreographed them into something like the kindie-rock equivalent of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand.
Hell, even I am on a track. On the hilarious Senzatimore rock anthem “Ground Food,” I found a 12-string guitar part that I mailed in woven into some delicate, sympathetic counterpoint with Marco Benevento’s piano, as if I had known that it would be like that when I played it. There’s a new detail or three around every corner, and so many instruments, synth warbles and human voices entering the conversation at all times that it is actually rather amazing how lucid and coherent the arrangements remain through it all. But that is the Grammy-winning Jones’s calling card: a rare balance of vivid imagination and unerring taste.
Jones (principally on synths here), along with Sutton and Senzatimore’s longtime partners in rock, bassist Jason Brunka and guitarist Geoff Gersh, form the core of the ensemble. Over alternately folky, power-rock and funky acoustic/electro grooves come keyboard cameos from Benevento, a number of outrageously hip saxophone arrangements from the great Shane Kirsch and vocals, vocals and more vocals, including a generous helping of vocalizing from Sutton’s family and from his students at the Woodstock Day School. Nowhere is the record’s Baroque, maximalist impulse more obvious than in its elaborate, contrapuntal, wall-to-wall vocal arrangements.
Many songs feature loose and goofy back-and-forth dialogues between Senzatimore and Sutton. Their easy, self-effacing rapport, along with the comedic-but-substantial arrangements, remind me quite a lot of Flight of the Conchords. Ratboy, Jr.’s take on kids’ rock has always been surreal and absurdist more than moralistic and didactic. Only a handful of songs deliver directives or injunctions of any kind. Two calls to hygienic awareness, “Sponges” and the aforementioned “Ground Food,” sound like they might be angling subtly for some Department of Public Health grant funds, but that is about as pedantic as it gets here.
The rest of this delightful record says, over and over, in an outlandish rainbow of musical and lyrical ways, “Use your imagination.” Don’t ask why or what for. The point is a roomful of hamsters, dude, not why there is a roomful of hamsters.
In a rare full-band show, Ratboy, Jr. celebrates the release of this career-defining record with a performance and barbecue on Saturday, May 30 from 12 noon to 2 p.m. at the pavilion at the Rock and Rye Tavern, located at 215 Huguenot Street in New Paltz. Admission costs $5. Family-friendly? Duh. For more information, visit www.ratboyjr.com.
Ratboy, Jr. Hamster Pants CD release performance/barbecue, Saturday, May 30, 12-2 p.m., $5, Rock & Rye Tavern, 215 Huguenot Street, New Paltz.