I've never been one for message-laden music...or message-laden musicians, come to that.
The one exception to this must be the late, great Frank Zappa, who poked vicious fun at everyone who deserved it, attacked politicians from every quarter, and yet took no political sides and made the listener laugh, think, and enjoy his music in equal measures.
I heard a story recently of Bono on U2's latest tour. He was telling a Scottish audience in Glasgow, punctuated with his own hand-claps, that "Every" (clap) "time" (clap) "I" (clap) "my" (clap) "hands" (clap) "a" (clap)"child" (clap) "in" (clap) "Africa" (clap) "dies" (clap).
From the back of the venue, a voice rang out, "Well, stop clapping your hands, then, you fucking idiot!"
I mention "music with a message" to show the good and bad ways to go about it. The latest album from Strezo, Haunted House Vol I, falls into the latter camp.
Quite sad really as the instrumental base of this album is remarkably good. Led by multi-instrumentalist Robert Filippo, the band construct tight, inventive and dexterous platforms for the vocals of the titular Kristen Strezo to sit upon.
Sadly, this is where the whole show is let down.
This is just my personal taste, you understand (of course you understand, gentle reader...every review is essentially the personal taste of the reviewer), but it sounds like someone singing the words from a sixteen-year-old girl's essay on how awful her latest relationship is or how society must change and stop repressing its individual units.
It wouldn't be so bad if the lyrics even scanned...I'll allow Ms. Strezo the luxury of rarely attempting a rhyme, but time after time, she cack-handedly shoehorns her adolescent scribbling into a space that they were never meant to be squeezed. The clumsiness of this serves only to highlight how bad the lyrics are to start with – for example, from Spray Paint:
"I'm tired of sweating for others' worthless agendas, false ethics, sinister motivations"
Followed shortly thereafter by the horribly elongated last word of the line:
"She vows to transfor-hor-horm"
It's all quite tragic, as without Ms Strezo's tiresome vocal babbling, this is a decent album. All it needs is a singer who can artfully deliver lyrics without it sounding like a third-rate school musical. I have no doubt that Strezo (the vocalist) deludes herself that she and her 11th grade prose form the keystone of Strezo's (the band) output.
Fillipo and the boys must be itching to tell her that setting a badly-written sociology paper to music isn't what they envisioned themselves being a part of, yet that's what they're stuck with. It downgrades a highly original, very listenable style of music to the level of inanity that would make me think twice about playing it to anyone I know for fear of them thinking I'd taken leave of my senses.
I don't see who gets off on this intellect-indie. How does she front the band live? "That was called A Questionable Dance, ladies and gentlemen...now discuss..."
Pretentious with a capital "p", art with a capital "f".
I normally write these reviews with the album in question playing in the background as a form of reference. I cannot do this with Haunted House Vol I – it grates on my nerves in the same way as a lecture in philanthropy would if delivered by a particularly self-important, mid-pubescent teenager.
I sit now in glorious silence.
I have no problem with anyone expressing their ideas – I just feel that Ms. Strezo is ruining the musicianship of those around her by choosing to use the band as a vehicle for her own, as opposed to writing a pamphlet and handing it out to anyone who passes by.
I'd be interested to hear an instrumental album by the band; they have a curious, almost age-gone-by feel about them, much in the vein of The Doors or one of the English Canterbury scene's bands (Henry Cow or early Gong, for instance). They certainly deserve to free themselves from the shackles of Ms Strezo's personal socio-political agenda.
Haunted House Vol I gets a four sponge rating from me purely on the basis of the musicianship it contains. Without Kristen Strezo's dissertations being read over the top of each track, I may well have stretched to six sponges – they're that good.