Vermouth, L.A.’s own self-proclaimed “purveyors of Retro Future Pop Exotica”, will officially release their debut disc, Retrofuture pop Exotica, on January 22, 2013. Vermouth was founded by Justine Kragen (lead vocals, guitar, bass and jungle calls) and Steve McDonald (lead guitar, percussion, bass, glockenspiel, sound effects and vocals). They are currently backed by “a courageous cast of curiously compulsive cohorts” currently including: Geoff Dent (vibraphone and congas), Douglas Freyre (stand-up bass, keyboards and bass) Xtine (trombone and flugelhorn), Rebecca Stout (vocals and percussion) and Anjilla Piazza (drums).
Assisting on the album are Matthew Embry (keyboards, glockenspiel and vocals), Curtis Cunningham (drums), Giulio Carmassi (trumpet, bass, drums, trombone, vibraphone and melodic), Dawn Fintor (drums and vocals), Josh Aguiar (trumpet), Casey Butler (baritone sax) and Matt Cooker (cello). Their new 12 track release has a running time of almost 45 minutes. The lyrical lead-in is “Velvet Circus”. This interesting opener is an apt introduction to the band’s abilities and was co-written by Kragen, McDonald and Ann Yoshikawa.
One of the best songs is “Tidy”. This is both odd yet somehow slightly erotic at the same time. This is a collaborative effort by Fintor, Buck Sanders, Jeff Richards and Scott Sandlon. It was arranged by McDonald.
The next number is “My House”. This track includes an eclectic assortment of instruments over which Kragen sings a lyrical invitation no man could refuse. It is further evidence that their music can be both catchy and quirky.
“Costa Rica” continues to demonstrate that the act’s signature sound is wonderfully retro-odd in a sometimes spacey fashion. It comes complete with Kragen-created animalistic screeches.
“Goggle Boy” follows. This one features nice vocal harmonies and lyrics that actually employ the word “gallivanting” which is noteworthy in and of itself. This one reveals the influence of the B-52s. The question is though . . . Who is Goggle Boy anyway?
The B-52s’ influence continues with the hip-shaker “Go Go Dancer”. This one evokes musical mental images of the 1960s and features a distinct distorted guitar solo which was created by a “Wookifier” which is “a homemade amplifier driving an old telephone-sized speaker which is housed in a Makita drill battery charger”.
“Gretchen The Iguana” is a tuneful true tale about an exotic iguana that appeared Kragen’s Santa Cruz doorstep back in 1998. Kragen has been caring for her ever since and the animal even appears sitting on McDonald’s amp on the back cover of the CD. The song itself is a subtle musical madness with a mod mantra for a near all-encapsulating chorus.
Ironically, your crusty chronicler can honestly say that “Curious” is actually less curious than many of the other cuts and includes a nice acoustic touch. “Blue Sky” is next. It’s a nice, slow, dreamy ditty. It reveals a slightly different aspect of the band in the form of a relaxed, kicked back cut that serves as an aural pallet cleanser.
“Over the Counter” initially inspires one to wonder if the track’s titled after the chosen choice of inspirational additive but, no, that’s not the case. It is a bit unusual but not much more so than many of the other offerings on this album. It’s highlighted by child-like vocals vaguely akin to Bjork and will either annoy or enthrall you depending on how often you listen to it.
“Pretending” just plain rocks while still retaining the essential elements of the group’s signature sound . . . and you can dance to it, too. The closing cut, “Sea Anemone”, is the “Critic’s Choice” in part because it is the less obvious choice. It opens quietly enough but soon proves itself to be an exceptional album end-note. It wasn’t a rock—or a rock lobster—it was a sea anemone. (Guys, when your lady can longer sing this song properly she is ready to go home. If you can longer sing the chorus correctly then it’s too late to take her home.)
Additional obvious influences here include other artists such as The Beatles, Latin American folk music, Devo, Henri Mancini, Tom Waits and Sprach Zarathustra. Over all, Vermouth is a very fluid act that has created its own genre with Retrofuture pop Exotica. They have blended an assortment of individualistic influences and deftly distilled them all into an offbeat, oft’times intricate atmospheric arrangement of melodic music. Your rockin’ reviewer is still “Curious” about one thing: Are these guys really cool or are they just “Pretending”?
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.