DD/MM/YYYY with ECSTATIC SUNSHINE and ROZASIA as part of the Over The Top festival at Sneaky Dee's (431 College), tonight (Thursday, May 3). $13. www.overthetopfest.com Rating: NNNNN
Unless your tastes run exclusively to the clichéd morass of totally generic mainstream pop, MOR rock and syrupy club-ready R&B, most musical obsessives have probably experienced at least one of those "what the fuck?" moments that happen when you're floored by something - a song, a lyric, a title - that seems to come from a total alternate universe. Think I Am The Walrus, Frank Zappa's Who Are the Brain Police? or most of Ween's catalogue - creative absurdity that makes you wish artists provided complimentary samples of whatever they were smoking during the writing process.
For the most part, it's easy enough to assume that the bulk of such surrealist rock writing is sheer nonsense, an incoherent document of some dude's long strange trip. But every so often, even the most hallucinatory inspiration can be found in the real world.
Take, for example, the forthcoming album by local frenetic post-punk ensemble DD/MM/YYYY, Are They Masks?. In addition to its curious title, the 21-track disc includes songs like Big Guy Was A Cat, Mr. T Cereal, Gentle Dudes With Muscles and As Clouds. And while drummer/singer/songwriter Matt King implicitly acknowledges that mind-altering substances may have affected some of the more surreal bits on the album, he insists the weirdest tune of all, BATMANGUITARCLOCK, is in fact a tribute to, yes, a real-life Batman guitar clock.
"Seriously, it's a clock in the shape of a guitar with Batman logos all over it," he proclaims. "Our friend Pat is the proud owner. I wanted to borrow the Batmanguitarclock and use the image to silkscreen lots of prints? y'know, spread the word through random merchandising."
Bizarre, but strangely enjoyable. Slated for release on Over The Top guru Eric Warner's We Are Busybodies label in late May, Are They Masks? marks King's first foray into proper songwriting (after the band's original singer, Jonathan, escaped to South America, King and guitarist Tomas Del Balls, who've been playing together since their old hardcore band Plant The Bomb, took over lyrical and vocal duties); he describes his songs, which ruminate on everything from drugs to laundry and water tables as "more topical" than the material DD/MM/YYYY showcased on their previous recording, 05's The Blue Screen Of Death.
If you're familiar with that album, which was split between a 15-minute set of nervy indie rock and 45 minutes of experimental, deconstructed, skronky ambient noise, the tightly-wound hooks and percussive art-punk of Are They Masks? feels like a reinvention of sorts.
"In some ways, we're trying to poke fun at pop formulas, I guess," offers King, adding that the focused studio-based recording process behind DD/MM/YYYY's new album was basically the polar opposite of the way the band developed The Blue Screen Of Death (the latter was recorded haphazardly while King and his bandmates were living and playing in a shared warehouse space. "With the earlier songs, we were trying to make something that was in a complete other direction from popular music and concentrating on changes and transitions and stuff, rather than, y'know, verse-chorus-verse.
"This album's less erratic, and there's more of a conscious focus on repetition. I mean," he laughs, "we'll play things more than three times before moving on."
The result is a manic, urgent set of short-and-shouty elastic rock songs that make it very hard to stand still while you're listening to them. It's music that's meant to be heard live, which means you should try to catch DD/MM/YYYY at their Over The Top appearance or risk missing out when they leave for a staggering 60+-date tour with pals Japanther. (They'll be back to play Sneaky Dee's June 29, but still...)
"We've definitely never played this many shows in a row," says King. " We don't have that many days off, but the ones we have are in perfect places. There's one between Alberta and Vancouver, so we can drive slowly through the Rockies, another in New Mexico, so we can see the Grand Canyon, and one more in Oregon, so we can hang out at Japanther's parents' houses."
Turns out DD/MM/YYYY are also playing many unconventional spaces, from Oakland's Albany Land Fill (an actual landfill site created from earthquake debris) to a handful of all-ages centres. Considering they've been a showcased band at Over The Top - where the mandate is all ages, all the time - since the festival's inception, I wonder whether King and his crew are set on making their shows accessible to underage crowds.
"We've had the mentality that we'll play anywhere if anyone asks us to, as long as we can do it and it's logical. Basement shows are really fun, and you get way more of a party spirit there compared to a club, but there are also a lot more people not paying attention at basement shows. Oh, and they're not a good place to set up merch."
Definitely a problem if King ever completes those Batmanguitarclock silkscreen prints.