Strange brew

Abe Vigoda are smart enough to stay weird
By REYAN ALI  |  April 2, 2010

SCENT HOME: Like other acts from LA’s Smell scene, Abe Vigoda mark unkempt punk with curious flourishes.
Abe Vigoda (the band) celebrated the 89th birthday of Abe Vigoda (the man) by staying up till 5 am. The LA punk group did not spend their time downing drinks and quoting the lanky Godfather and Barney Miller actor. Instead, they wrapped up two intense weeks of recording a new album in a studio in Alhambra, California. “I went home, the sun came up, and I passed out for a couple of hours,” reports guitarist Juan Velazquez a day later, speaking at the jittery clip of a jackrabbit hopped up on eight-hour energy shots. “I’m still riding this insane high.”

For any band who laid their previous album down in a garage/home studio “out of necessity,” recording in a real studio must be an exciting upgrade. But what makes this turn especially thrilling is the thought of Abe Vigoda going wild in a room full of new gadgets. They enjoy themselves too much to worry about commercial potential, attacking their instruments (and their songs) with such voracious, juvenile verve that it’s a pleasure to wonder what the hell will come from all this “running around, playing every keyboard in the studio, tweaking every single thing.”

Like a zillion other bands, Abe started as a bunch of teenagers just wanting to “play music and hang out.” Timing had a substantial role in the expansion of their goals: they cut their teeth kicking out clatter at LA punk hub the Smell just as its other fixtures were also making waves. The association gave a big boost to their notoriety — whenever a discussion of Smell comrades No Age, Mika Miko, or Health arises, Abe Vigoda are bound to follow.

And like other Smell acts, they’re big on marking unkempt punk with curious flourishes. Their trademark motif — a playful, sunny guitar sound that often conjures a steel drum — has led to their being tagged as “tropical punk.” The effect is spattered all over 2008’s Skeleton (RPM), smartly manipulated into an assortment of moods. “Lantern Lights” suggests listless and confused; “Hyacinth Grrls” is hopeful and naïve; “Gates” plays sweet and delicate. Complementing their experimental structures are the vocals of Michael Vidal, who sings with the unsteady pattern of someone testing the echoes of a room.

For Skeleton’s follow-up (due in the fall), Abe have added synths and drum machines in order to craft what Vidal calls a “sleeker” sound in the vein of new wave and ’80s goth. He intimates that they’re leaning more toward their pop side this time around. “It’s still loud, and there are noisy elements, but it’s different.”

Musical refinements aside, Vidal’s off-the-wall lyrical matter isn’t going anywhere — one of Abe’s less discussed (and less intelligible) elements, it’s as key as their dented melodies. On Skeleton, Vidal subverted the happy-go-lucky expectations of the “tropical punk” sound by reveling in demonic, decayed imagery. (The bouncy “Bear Face” begins, “Big Hell burns in brother’s ear/It burns for years and years.”) On the new one, he’ll explore a saga of two lovers trapped in a BDSM relationship destined to fall apart.

Velazquez does drop a potentially alarming bit of info. Having shared the unmixed album with his dad, the guitarist received this feedback: “You can play it on the radio, cool. You can actually hear what’s going on!” The idea of this ebullient, DIY-bred, oddball act cleaning up its wonderful mess is a jarring, deflating notion. Fingers crossed that even if Abe Vigoda follow their tourmates onto the airwaves this year, they’ll keep things sufficiently weird.

ABE VIGODA + VAMPIRE WEEKEND | Orpheum Theatre, 1 Hamilton Place, Boston | April 1 at 9 pm | OFFICIALLY SOLD OUT

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  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, Michael Vidal, Music,  More more >
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