DRINKS - Hippo Lite

by Bill Golembeski Rating:8 Release Date:2018-04-20
DRINKS - Hippo Lite
DRINKS - Hippo Lite

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” so Dorothy said when confronted with the land of Oz. And that’s what I also said when faced with the vinyl grooves of The Beatles’ White Album, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, The Residents’ Eskimo, XTC’s White Music, anything by early King Crimson, Jade Warrior’s Kites, Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights,” Nick Drake’s skeletal Pink Moon, and Peter Gabriel’s third record. And yes, I said the very same thing (while playing this album) to my new English Setter puppy, Willamena, who was born in Kansas and is now in my Wisconsin home, hence the Toto connection and comment.

This compass stylus simply points anywhere but North, but that’s all right because the winds are warm and this music resonates from an unfamiliar jukebox.

And mental travel is all about an unfamiliar juke box.

Sure, this one is odd. But it’s odd in nice way. And it’s often odd in a melodic way.

I came into DRINKS’ Hippo Lite having really enjoyed the psych-folk of Cate Le Bon’s wonderful Crab Day. This is her second DRINKS collaboration with Tim Presley of White Fence.  

Oh, the devil is sometimes in the details, but on this record, that’s where the beauty is found. It’s avant-garde pop music, and truly doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a lovely album of minimalism, strange sounds, and weird melodies that are graced by Cate and Tim’s vocals.

“Blue from the Dark” begins with a simple guitar and typewriter percussion. There’s a gentle piano that ushers in a really decent folk melody and vocal duet. And then sundry sounds (like a baby crying) flit in the background.

“IF IT” is a brief interlude that paves the way from the truly great song “Real Outside.” A repeated backing track persists as Cate’s voice defies the metronomic pace with a surreal aerobatic melody that recalls both Nico of The Velvet Underground fame and Dagmar Krause from Slapp Happy. A piano then wobbles during another short interlude that introduces “In the Night Kitchen” which throbs with a bass that backs a nice guitar melody that is framed with bird calls.

Willamena, my English setter pup from Kansas, really liked those bird calls.

Then two songs follow. “Greasing Up” is another pretty great folk melody with dual voices. Tim Presley has that ages-deep voice and really reminds me of Richard Sinclair of Hatfield and the North (and Caravan) fame. His voice just manages to fill a lot of space and time. Syd Barrett sang that way, too. And then there is “Corner Shops.” The bass line is funky and Cate sings the notes that pop tunes don’t normally touch. Listen to the warped piano, off-kilter guitar, and Cate’s joyous whoops. This is sublime folky pop music.

“IF IT” gets a short reprise with creaking doors and alarm sounds.

You know, personal taste in anything is a funny thing. Some people just won’t like this record. It takes a patient mind. But there are always a devoted few. When cable television was brand new, the cry went out for educational people to fill the vacant channels. Well, we teachers figured to make use of a channel slot and post the daily homework assignments so as to inform the parents of our expectations. Of course, the whole thing was less popular than, say, the Anyone Can Tap Dance Show, or Sister Donna’s Rosary Hour, and after about a month when homework completion showed no signs of improvement, we dropped the idea, and our educational channel homework assignment listing sadly went blank.

It was only many years later, when talking with a former student while in a grocery line, that I learned there were a devoted few who apparently taped those homework scrolls, have watched them through the years like reruns of Seinfeld, and are now eagerly hoping for their return in blue-ray format.

So, go figure. Sure, this record is odd, but it’s pleasantly odd. And it should, if the universe has any justice at all, find its own devoted few who will love its songs, like the tune “Ducks” that scrambles the pop ethos a bit, and then scrambles it a bit more. “Leave the Lights On” is duel-voiced pop. Cate, indeed, takes the high road here. And the melody sticks in your head. “Pink or Die” drifts and chops with eerie charm.

And then “You Could Be Better” is an uplifting song, and it is, perhaps, hope personified. Tim’s vocals suggest “better” choices while the music is minimalistic in its insistence that, yeah, we all could be better.

There’s a band called Kansas who had a big hit song, “Dust in the Wind.” It’s not a bad tune, but honestly, I don’t think I need to hear it again. It’s pretty obvious. Sure, “We’re all dust in the wind.” But this Hippo Lite record isn’t obvious. It’s a record of minimalism, strange sounds, and weird melodies that I want to hear again and again, in the music that will always resonate from the open road of an unfamiliar jukebox.

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