So wrong they're Righteous

These brothers make their own rules
By BRETT MILANO  |  July 25, 2007


VIDEO: The Self-Righteous Brothers, "Sidecar Jesus"

Self-Righteous Brothers, "Graduated Cylinder" (mp3)
You can tell you have a good thing going when a lot of people like your band, but nobody can agree why. Less than two years into their existence, the Self-Righteous Brothers (who play the Baseball Tavern on August 1) already have a press kit worth of raves. But different supporters have taken them for everything from an avant-garde outfit to a comedy act to a garage band. What they really are, of course, is more like an avant-garde garage band with a sense of humor.

Listening to their homonymous CD (on their own Black & Greene label), one hears a bunch of solid, rough-edged pop songs that go terribly wrong — in ways that usually work. Tempos get changed, instruments get added, and songwriting logic gets messed with. A prime example would be “Taint Misbehavin,’ ” which starts as the catchiest and most straightforward track on the disc (it’s perversely stuck at track 10). Having nothing to do with the similarly titled Fats Waller song, it could pass for a lost Elliott Smith, with its piano lead and yearning feel, though the banjo and sax solos hint at something more eclectic. Sure enough, by song’s end they add a blurping analog synth and a chorus of whistles, turning their own song inside-out. Elsewhere they put ska horns on a non-ska song (“Electric Boogaloo”), and tack a two-minute prog intro on an otherwise straight-ahead rocker (“When I Want To”). At such moments it seems Boston finally has its own answer to the great ’60s oddball group, the Bonzo Dog Band.

Those bits of arrangement are typical of how the two main songwriters, Jake Hall (drums/vocals) and Max Koepke (guitars/vocals), work: the former writes pop songs, the latter has the more avant ideas, and the two mess with each other’s songs. “It’s like Frank Zappa meeting the Beatles,” Koepke offers when we get together at the Druid in Inman Square. “I was thinking that we were more like John Mayer meets Blink-182,” shoots the more wise-assed Hall from across the table. “Really, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t fascinated by music like that. I have to turn James Blunt up every time he’s on the radio. I am entranced by its shittiness.”

That’s not to say that the band is on a crusade against lame radio pop; rather, they’re just some friends doing what comes naturally. Although the basic group is a trio (with multi-instrumentalist Justin McLean), there are 10 players on the disc, including producer and Apollo Sunshine member Jesse Gallagher (“I love that band because they have remarkable talent and we don’t,” Koepke says). The CD version of “Taint Misbehavin’ ” is in fact a composite of two versions: the first was deemed too straight-ahead and the second was too out-there, so they did a “Strawberry Fields Forever” and stuck them both together. “Floyd,” the CD opener, is a left-field tribute, a three-piece instrumental that doesn’t sound anything like Pink Floyd — though Hall points out that the chords are in fact identical to their “Have a Cigar.” “It doesn’t really sound like them,” he admits. “It does sync up with The Wizard of Oz, though.”

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