In the first minute of the first track of the new album by Volumen, everything that is great and goofy about the long-lived Missoula band is on display: The lo-fi sing-song keyboards of Chris Bacon, the stutter-fire pounding of drummer Bob Marshall, Bryan Hickey’s no-nonsense basslines, and the confidently raw dual lead vocals of Shane Hickey and Doug Smith.
These are a few of the favorite things that have drawn flocks of fist-pumping fans to gigs by the band, which celebrates its 10th birthday late this year. Born on a lark – as a one-time New Year’s Eve stunt – the band now stands as one of the most enduring and prolific acts in modern Missoula music.
And now there’s a record that lives up to those hazy late-night memories of brain-searing rock shows.
After four albums that felt by turns under-produced or hastily assembled, “Skipper of Reverses” finally brings together, in vivid focus, the best attributes of this band, which has carved out its unique musical voice in the space between Iggy, Ziggy, and Ween.
Here, at last, is a clear and clever version of “Cocaine,” a song that Shane Hickey says was rolling around in his head for years, ever since the turn-of-the-millenium heyday of local punk bar Jay’s Upstairs. Over a rattling, jazzy groove, Hickey sings a tongue-in-cheek homage to some of that bar’s less charming denizens:
“You’re a bore, we only notice while you’re talking
So please don’t ever stop talking again
You’ve got a mouth full of thumbtacks
And you spit ‘em while you talk
Cuz you’ve done too much coke.”
That stuff is hilariously charming; but the meat of this album is a series of blazing rockers: the vocoder-laced “Bowie2D2,” the shout-along bounce of “Beat Of,” and the oddball “Time Travel,” with its muscular guitar crunch set against dreamy keyboards reminiscent of Ween’s “The Mollusk.”
Volumen have written songs as good as these before, no doubt; “Sexy Astronaut” certainly comes to mind, and I’m still waiting for the band to revisit the freakshow vibe of “Mighty Dwarves.”
But it’s the time and attention to detail devoted to the recording process that sets “Skipper of Reverses” apart from previous Volumen records – ironic, given that most of the album wasn’t even written when the band decided to go into Club Shmed Studio in Missoula to record a few tracks in early 2008.
“We were thinking we’d record a couple of songs with a couple of different people, just for fun,” said Shane Hickey. “But once we heard what Shmed (Maynes) was able to do with it, we figured, let’s do some more.”
Maynes’ imprint is all over the album, from its sunbursts of harmony vocals to its yowling, wall-of-sound guitars. Although Hickey counts Maynes as a long-time friend, he said even he was surprised at how well his sensibilities synched up with the band’s direction.
“Shmed had all sorts of crazy ideas and most of them, we were like, yes, let’s do that,” said Hickey. “Generally we aren’t accommodating to new ideas – if you suggest something, I instantly think the opposite. But his ideas were just right.”
Volumen will celebrate the release of “Skipper of Reverses” at the KBGA Birthday Bash this Friday, Sept. 25, at the Badlander.