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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Pianosaurus - Groovy Neighborhood

Name: Pianosaurus
Album: Groovy Neighborhood
Year: 1987
Style: Novelty Pop, Folksy, Oldies
Similar Bands: Coolies, Ed's Redeeming Qualities, Belle & Sebastian. 
One Word Review: Saturday Morning Cartoon Folk
Based Out Of: Upstate NY
Label: Rounder Records
 Groovy Neighborhood - Cover & Record
Groovy Neighborhood - Back & Record
Groovy Neighborhood (1987)
  1. Thriftshoppin' 2:54
  2. Ready to Rock 1:54
  3. Sun Will Follow 2:05
  4. The Speakeasy Song 3:24
  5. Cherry Street 2:04
  6. Memphis (Chuck Berry) 2:09
  7. Going Downtown 3:22/
  8. Love is a Two-Way Street 2:24
  9. Center of the Universe 1:54
  10. A Little Love (Never Hurt) 2:19
  11. Bubblegum Music 3:03
  12. A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Toy Store 3:51
  13. Eleanor Day 1:04
  14. Dimples (John Lee Hooker) 1:58
Album Rating (1-10): 8.0

Members & Other Bands:
Richland Designs - Design
Stephen Dansiger - Toy Drum, Percussion, Horns, Vox (King Missile, Roger Manning, Artless)
James MacMillian - Engineer
Rob Grenoble - Asst Engineer, Assoc. Producer
Robert Miller, Asst Engineer, Assoc. Producer
Peter Kohman - Guitar
Alex Garvin - Toy Guitar, Horns, Vox
Don Howland - Liner Notes
David Freeman - Photograph
Peter Holsapple - Producer, Guitar, Vox (dB's, Continental Drifters, REM, Chills)
Bianca Miller - Toy Piano, Toy Guitar, Horns, Vox

Unknown-ness: Never heard of this band. I would assume that the instruments they are posing with are a metaphor fr their care free, and childish tone of their songs, including the title Groovy Neighborhood. It has a juvenile sound, as does their band name. However, the description on the back reads like they play the children's instruments. Now I don't know really what to expect, except perhaps some very basic songs.

Album Review: So this is quite the shtick that they stuck too: full on toy instruments playing out a dozen or so original numbers and two covers. Apparently they covered The Box Top’s The Letter, too, but it was not included on the vinyl. Only one album was made, produced by Peter Holsapple of many other bands in the same realm of sound (dBs, REM, Chills), just not execution that these guys had. It is playful, charming, and naively pure; non-threatening for sure. Their second album, titled Back to School, never came out, after singer Alex left the band before it could be produced.

“Thriftshoppin'” starts with a fun, anxious pace, but the sound is undeniable: toy piano and children’s instruments. This is what they promised, and it sounds pretty good. This song sounds like a theme for the band. It is a humorous take on thrift store shopping, something that has never really gone out of style- at least one group of kids grows up enamored with goodwill garments and items. The song pounds and bangs on the instruments, and it is a wonder how it was mic’ed and recorded so clearly. Just a solid pop song, and it could be an apropriate theme song to this blog.
“Ready to Rock” feels like a buddy holly song, with simple melodies strung together with vocal stints as the glue. The jangley piano is something every kid can associate with, and it’s incredible to hear as a legitimate (debatable) instrument, not as an accessory. It sounds like how a child’s toy company would modify an oldies song to come out of a kid’s toy.
“Sun Will Follow” is a little slower and steady with the tempo. The vocals are slightly monotone, and very folksy: not having to offer extreme emotion over powerful instruments. This song sounds like it could be repackaged for a Matthew Sweet album.
“The Speakeasy Song” begins quietly, and is a bit southern bluesy, on a toy guitar. The harpsichord sounding piano joins the guitar, and eventually a delicate drum beat. The song increases in strength and solid, cohesive sound. This is the song that the album title comes from.
“Cherry Street” is another song that is about and explaining the small town where the Pianosaurs live. The song has a bit of a loungey tone, perhaps a little island sound, with the drum brush strokes, and piano, which could be stretched to sound like a steel drum, if you squint your ears just right. The song has a calming swaying effect. The purely audible and clearly accented vocals remind me of production from the band Ed’s Redeeming Qualities.
“Memphis” is a cover of Chuck Berry, featuring the toy guitar and a bouncy bas accompaniment. The vocals are sung in harmony, and the song bounces along like a horse drawn wagon or cartoon train. With the popular 8-bit covers of famous songs, this is a decidedly analog take on the same enjoyment.
“Going Downtown” is quite folksy, with sedated vocals, barely forming words, as the sleepy guitar bleeds into a bit of an upbeat piano and drum tempo. The melody, with the way it seems to continue just as it is about to end, reminds me of Belle & Sebastian’s more mellow songs. As the instrumental break plays out to the end, I’m even more reminded of Generals and Majors on If You’re Feeling Sinister, particularly the line “snow is falling, falling, falling.”

“Love is a Two-Way Street” is a drunken, swaying hammock love ballad. The toy guitar and vocals start out the song, built up by the piano and clacking stick percussion. Base is added, and the song picks up form. The backing vocals repeat the title out, with a bit of a psychedelic production, and the piano carries the song out.
“Center of the Universe” is immediately pleasant and jovial. The whole song sounds like a chorus. For the second verse, the backing vocals sing as a shadow to the lead.
“A Little Love (Never Hurt)” is similar to Two Way Street, in its perception of a care free love ballad sung in a rowboat. It would be hard to imagine this song played in a dark, dingy venue: I could only hear this played in high school auditoriums or summer community festivals.
“Bubblegum Music” sets out to explore exactly what it is called. Catchy simple hooks on guitar and shifty excitable drums play through the verse. Once the chorus hits, it is a release of an even better hook akin to all of the bubblegum pop of the 60’s. The unnerved vocals really play well for this style of song. It is a little repetitive, but that is the point of the simple throw-away melodies like this, with lyrics like “Bubble Gum Music / Chew It Up.”
“A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Toy Store” is a quiet reflective song, considering the happenings in the neighborhood as the singer walks through. It has a little of a Weird Al style to it, with the same descriptive style, in its sincerity, and just a touch of silliness. The song plays out the last 30 seconds or so as an instrumental and a chorus of “Wooos.”
“Eleanor Day” could also be a Belle & Sebastian song, with its melancholy vocal melody, with some sunrise, sprouting instrumental support.
“Dimples” is a cover of John Lee Hooker. And the rough sounding toy guitar & bass is the main instrument driving this be-bopping blues song along. Even when the guitar rings out, the notes fade away fast, perhaps because they are played on plastic strings. But there is a raw, fun energy to the song, that perhaps is the only true way to capture the themes of the song as a cover.

Stand Out Track: Thriftshopin'

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