Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Bob Drake—What Day Is It? (Ad Hoc Records)
Bob Drake is definitely hero material. Why? He’s created a ton of fascinating music with the 5UU’s and Thinking Plague (two long-running American RIO outfits) and by himself on a number of solo albums, the first of which, 1994’s What Day Is It?, was reissued last year. Drake has also produced, engineered, and mastered a bunch of other artists’ work, underlining his status as a kingpin of the worldwide avant-prog scene, such as it is. He lives in France.
In the booklet, Drake notes that the original album was limited to around 300 copies. The grunt work involved, both in hand-making each CD package and in marketing a self-released album, limited the record’s initial lifespan and kept it from reaching as many people as it could have. For this edition, Drake’s reworked the booklet art only—the music is exactly as it was presented in 1994. And it’s fantastically peculiar, kind of a homespun progressive rock full of unpredictable segues and diversions. I find it more accessible and immediately enjoyable than his other bands’ work, though no less complex and rigorously conceived. The songs, which rarely break the four-minute mark, are like detailed little curios, etchings of mysterious scenes evoking dark nostalgia. Experiencing the album is like discovering an abandoned manor and clambering through the overgrown garden, then peering through the windows at the shrouded furnishings inside. You half expect each dust cover to rise up as a ghost and fly at you.
And hey, the opening track, a ramshackle thing called “The House,” talks of such an empty place where the narrator “went down into the cellar/and saw something on a table/it was surrounded by strange tools/I thought it moved./Now I hear wings.” Hearing this in Drake’s keening voice (which a lot of reviewers rightly liken to Jon Anderson) lends a gleeful eeriness to it. The instrumental “Weeds” blows the dust off with its hoedown-paced slew of tricky picking, handclaps, breakdowns and general backcountry joie de vivre. This kind of feel is repeated for parts of “Spiders” (before that track takes a turn for the ethereal), but the rest of the album resides in a hairy-scary cloister where occasional glimmers of cheerfully warped pop leak through (“The Drawing” and “The 13th Animal”) before being shut out by shady lurkers like might-as-well-be-an-Opeth-excerpt “Death Valley” and “The Cemetery Trees,” which ends in the kind of macabre sing-song that Drake fully explored on The Skull Mailbox, an amazing album that’ll give you goosebumps on your goosebumps, as Count Floyd once said. Having only heard The Skull Mailbox before, I was hesitant to taint its precious uniqueness by risking another Bob Drake purchase. What if his other stuff wasn’t up to the same level of inspiration? I shouldn’t have worried; he's had the goods from day one.