1. Firebears (17:52)
2. The Eternal German Infant (8:11)
3. Mister Freeze (6:49)
4. I Shall Consume Everything (9:26)
Dan McGowan – lead vocals (2,3,4), backing vocals, acoustic and electric guitar
Patrick McGowan – electric guitar, lead vocals (1), backing vocals, bass (2)
Becky Osenenko – keyboards
Charles Batdorf – bass (1,3,4), guitar (2)
Joe Rizzolo – drums
Additional instruments by R McGeddon
New Jersey band The Tea Club seem to follow a regular schedule in the release of their albums: indeed, their third effort, bearing the snappy title of Quickly, Quickly, Quickly, comes two years after Rabbit , which in turn had come two years after their debut, General Winter’s Secret Museum. In the span of those four years, the band went from a trio of brothers Pat and Dan McGowan and drummer Kyle Minnick to a four-piece with the addition of keyboardist Becky Osenenko, then, in the months after Rabbit’s release, added two more members (bassist Charles Batdorf and guitarist Jim Berger) and replaced Minnick with Joe Rizzolo. Quickly, Quickly, Quickly was recorded by the band as a quintet, with the mysteriously-named R. McGeddon providing additional instruments. At the time of writing, the band have reverted to a trio format, with only Rizzolo left of all those “new entries”.
In spite of the permanent state of flux of their lineup, The Tea Club have been actively pursuing their own artistic path, which has marked them as one of the most interesting and original acts of the contemporary progressive rock scene. In the two years that have followed Rabbit – an album that has earned them the attention of those prog fans that the more straightforward nature of General Winter’s Secret Museum had left somewhat unimpressed – the band have appeared at ProgDay 2011, supported Swedish act Beardfish in their 2012 US mini-tour, produced a number of videos, and written 80 minutes worth of music for their new album, half of which is featured on Quickly, Quickly, Quicky. As a non-fan of excessively long albums, I commend their choice of splitting the material in two parts – as Radiohead (one of their undisputed influences) did in the early 2000’s with the sessions that led to Kid A and Amnesiac.
The caption “pastoral post-rock blending into proper progressiveness” proudly featured on The Tea Club’s website effectively describes the band’s musical direction, which acknowledges their membership of the vast, somewhat indistinct “prog” universe, while at the same time distancing them from anything smacking too much of nostalgia. Indeed, the band – for all their constant shape-shifting – have succeeded in retaining their own recognizable sound, painstakingly refined over the years, and characterized by a masterful handling of post-prog’s trademark quiet-loud dynamics. The high-pitched but always tuneful voices of the McGowan brothers – often twined in heady harmonies – also anchor The Tea Club’s sound to the modern prog aesthetics, evoking iconic singers such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Muse’s Matt Bellamy or The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord, or even The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala – though avoiding the occasionally whiny, abrasive tones that can make those vocalists an acquired taste. Indeed, the brothers’ voices are treated more like additional instruments than as something separate, complementing Quickly, Quickly, Quickly‘s largely lyrics-oriented nature.
The Tea Club’s allegiance to traditional prog modes is revealed by the increasing length of their compositions, which comes to full fruition on Quickly. Quickly, Quickly. In spite of the title, the music is anything but quick to sink in, and – as in the case of Rabbit – it may take a while to click. Interestingly, throughout the album the guitars are used more as an accent than as the main event, and the sleek, pulsing interplay of Charles Batdorf’s meaty bass lines, Joe Rizzolo’s authoritative drumming and Becky Osenenko’s layers of keyboards (including piano and Hammond organ) suggest the expertly rendered contrast between softness and angularity of Yes at their peak – though with a distinctly contemporary slant. Rizzolo’s trademark, surging drum rolls, on the other hand, may often recall The Mars Volta, particularly on their genre-defining debut, De-Loused in the Comatorium.
The band’s choice to open the album with the 18-minute workout of “Firebears”, which somehow sums up the band’s vision and their evolution of the past four years, is undoubtedly a brave move – as epic-length openers all too often render the album top-heavy, to the detriment of what comes afterwards. However, things are balanced by the respectable running time of the remaining three songs. “Firebears” kicks off in unmistakable Tea Club style, with majestic drum rolls, soaring vocals and jangly guitar riffs, then gradually slows down to a rarefied, pastoral middle section, with half-spoken, almost whispered vocals: then things pick up again, and the final part of the song sees all the instruments converge in an exhilarating, intense climax. Although the song might have benefited by some trimming – as it is packed with good ideas that do not always coalesce into a perfect whole – it showcases the band’s potential in tantalizing fashion.
Like the previous track, “The Eternal German Infant” opens on a high note, building up and then slowing down in an intriguing ebb-and-flow structure. Soothing, almost Beatlesian vocal harmonies (which, together with Dan McGowan’s vocals, put me in mind of Echolyn), pastoral keyboards and gently chiming guitar coexist with tense, jagged moments that, however, do not neglect melody. In contrast, the dark lullaby of “Mister Freeze” reprises the spirit of “Royal Oil Can” on Rabbit, while spacey keyboards and bits of Hammond organ add to the vaguely menacing atmosphere – again, bringing to mind The Mars Volta, and even some of King Crimson’s subdued yet tense pieces. The almost 10-minute “I Shall Consume Everything” wraps up the album by bringing together all the strains and themes introduced by the previous numbers, juxtaposing moments of pastoral gentleness with flares of sheer intensity, surging like a wave propelled by a remarkable instrumental synergy.
With its visionary, sometimes slightly disturbing lyrics, paralleled by Kendra De Simone’s customary quirky artwork, Quickly, Quickly, Quickly is a bold statement that thankfully eschews the pitfalls of pretentiousness by keeping its running time at a restrained 42 minutes. Not an easy album to get into at first – unlike the band’s punchy, more streamlined debut – but rewarding in the long run, it shows a band that is constantly evolving, in spite of the growing pains manifested in in their frequent lineup changes. In any case, this is a fine release that is likely to be appreciated both by fans of modern prog and more traditional-minded listeners.