1. Suite: Yehsu Beelzebobs (8:07)
2. Nauxluv (2:35)
3. The Ballad of Bobby (2:17)
4. Own Best Friend Today (4:08)
5. Bobby’s Lament (1:35)
6. Tatisef/Hatihafren (3:59)
7. A Party of Friends (6:49)
8. R Time (3:22)
9. War on Friends (10:43)
10. Forever After (6:29)
Derek Campbell – vocals, guitar, voice of Advertisement, voice of Friends
Micah Carbonneau – drums, percussion, bass, upright bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals, voice of Bobby
Luke Laplant – baritone saxophone, E.W.I. , keyboards
Alex Wolston – trumpet (3, 9)
Natalie Cooper – vocals, voice of Mary (4, 7)
Megan Garrity – voice of Bedsy (7)
“Zappa is dead, long live Zappa!”… This could be a perfect caption for Believe in Your Own Best Friend, Electric Sorcery’s third album. The über-eclectic outfit, hailing from Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, first came to my attention when I reviewed their second release (simply titled Electric Sorcery II) couple of years ago. A dynamic power trio with a twist, whose individual members have played in a number of local bands since the early Nineties, Electric Sorcery are one of the most potentially exciting bands I have happened to come across in my years as a reviewer. With that genuinely omnivorous attitude that is the trademark of the best progressive rock acts, for their third CD release they have taken the plunge and adopted the loved/loathed ‘rock opera’ format, which over the years has produced a number of masterpieces, but also quite a few turkeys.
Quite busy as a live band on their home turf, Electric Sorcery often play covers alongside their original material, with Frank Zappa as ne of the mainstays of their repertoire. While Zappa’s influence on many bands of the RIO/Avant persuasion is quite evident, no one had yet had the audacity to attempt a recreation of his more irreverent, censorship-prone material, rather than the sophisticated jazz-rock of albums such as Hot Rats or Apostrophe. However, Electric Sorcery have done it, and concocted a whole album revolving around as outrageous a story as they come, which seems to be a perfect fit for the general socio-political climate of the early 21st century – though viewed through a grotesque filter rather than in the gloomy, dystopian terms of the likes of Queensryche’s Operation:Mindcrime.
On the band’s website, the album is introduced by a hilarious ‘warning’ note (as in a send-up of those “parental advisory” stickers) that quotes Zappa’s own words, as well as mentioning the evils of cable TV. Based on an idea by drummer Micah Carbonneau and developed in writing by guitarist/vocalist Derek Campbell, the background story (the titular ‘best friend’ being a nickname for an electronic sex aid) throws in such taboo subjects as murder and cannibalism, together with the relatively tamer issues of sex with underage partners, drug use, and the inevitable political shenanigans, wrapping things up with a global-scale war. Undoubtedly an outlandish, over-the-top tale, it is also oddly intriguing, in spite of its overtly seedy nature (which is likely to put off the more strait-laced listeners).
Though the music might be expected to take a back seat to the story, it nevertheless manages to break through even the most manic singing episodes, as immediately displayed in album opener “Suite: Yehsu Beelzebobs”, a number of astounding complexity, peppered with sound and vocal effects, and introducing the album’s leitmotiv. Campbell’s deep baritone voice often sounds like a dead ringer for Zappa’s, and the head-spinning tempo changes and sultry sax solo at the end are sure to catch the attention of sophisticated listeners. The following track, “Nauxluv”, introduces one of the distinctive elements of Electric Sorcery’s musical melting pot, a jaunty reggae rhythm punctuated by Luke Laplant’s sax. After “The Ballad of Bobby”, a brief, subdued instrumental interlude featuring the slow, mournful surge of guest Alex Wolston’s trumpet, the upbeat mood of the first two tracks is reprised in “Own Best Friend Today”, one of the main narrative pieces with plenty of vocal interplay, and great sax and drum work to push the musical component to the fore.
The second instrumental interlude, the country/folk-tinged “Bobby’s Lament”, acts as a gateway of sorts to the second half of the album, decidedly more experimental in tone than the first. Narrative pieces like the theatrical, drum-powered “Tatisef/Hatihafren” and the chaotic “Party of Friends”, laden with distorted vocals and electronic effects, are balanced by the mainly instrumental direction of the last three tracks, in which the band veer towards decidedly psychedelic territory. While “R Time” features very expressive vocals by Campbell (who is an excellent singer, as I first noticed when reviewing the band’s previous album), “War on Friends” (at over 10 minutes, the longest number on an album clocking in at a very restrained 48 minutes) and “Forever After” have the sparse, loose feel of a jam session, relying heavily on spacey guitar and keyboards, burbling sound effects and dramatic cymbal crashes that create an ominous, cinematic soundscape. While the unstructured nature of these tracks might put off those listeners who like more disciplined compositions – as well as those whose main interest lies in the story line – they provide a fitting conclusion for such an unabashedly wacky, anarchic effort.
Though Frank Zappa is very openly referenced on the album, both musically and lyrically, it would be unfair to call Believe in Your Own Best Friend derivative. It should rather be seen as a heartfelt homage to one of the few genuinely revolutionary musicians in the history of rock, and also as a brave proposition for a band who is still an unknown quantity in most prog circles. Even if I am not completely sure that such an idiosyncratic album may be the most effective way to put them on the extensive prog map, it is an entertaining, lovingly crafted disc by a trio of open-minded musicians who obviously do not care about fads or labels, and will keep on doing the music they want for as long as they enjoy it. The album can be downloaded from the Bandcamp link below.