there's this band called king radio from here (Northampton, MA) that is good and lovely and wonderful. The obvious rallying point for this gang is early-to-mid-freak out-Brian-Wilson and '60's ambitio-pop but there's so, so much more. i heard their record "Are You The Sick Passenger" (spirithouse records- available nationally) and bugged leader Frank Padellaro until he let me join the touring band. I didn't play on this record though, so I'm allowed to prattle on in porno detail about it.
I did wind up in a van with them late last summer fer a spell in the South and Midwest and encouraged a couple of them to get their heads bad on the local devil's weed and break a couple of smallish motel fixtures. They are a brilliant and ragtag motley of loveable geeks and i am a bit of a sore thumb amongst them with my own rock past leaning more towards striking radio programmers and lots and lots of drugz 'n' booze and years with my head on the curbs of the streets of N. Hollywood. Frank is a road dog in the tradition of yours truly, and at the wheel of their red Ford van he will devour a thousand miles the way my ten year-old devours Skittles. One after another after another, until yea, a thousand are gone, gone, gone.
"Are You The Sick Passenger", near as I can tell, was baked in a kitchen inhabited by several fine cooks. Padellaro is the singer, writer and guitarist, the leader and rallying point. The producer of the record is a mysterious figure named Peter Baldwin who isn't really in the band but is obviously a master of pop craft and one of the most tasteful and in-the-pocket bass players I've heard since Colin Moulding of XTC. I kid you the fuck not; there's no resemblance stylistically, since Baldwin's tone of choice is that rubberbandy flat wound Californian Carol Kaye plunk, but there is a similar singularity of deployment. And even more crucially, non-deployment- Baldwin's preoccupation with negative space informs not only the bass but all of the arrangements. When I play bass for these guys I play it as absolutely note-for-note like the record as possible and that's saying something 'cause I happen to be king hell on that axe, you know what I'm saying?
A crucial part of the instrumental side of things seems to be Ken Maiuri (sp?), a keyboard stylist who tickles the various Wurlitzers and Hammonds of the Padellaro arsenal. Ken is a multi-instrumentalist who is also Pedro The Lions permanent drummer, but on "Sick Passenger" he is definitely the ultimate keys man. And this is saying something because the record is a house built on a foundation of electric piano, organ, Chamberlin, Mellotron, Synclavier (just kidding) and all manner of keyed instruments. When I play keyboards live for these guys I blah...blah...blah...see above. Ken has some really left-field influences, 60's educational music and the Free Design and all this wack shit that is so beyond dispute it makes the Velvet Underground look like The Spice Girls. He squeezes some very unique tones out of these classic instruments, creating horror-movie moments that sit comfortably against rich, Zombies-ish exclamations.
Fourth in this triumvirate (hee) is the not inconsiderably talented Dave Trenholm, another multi-instrumentalist who specializes in electric guitar, vocals and flute. Or so I thought until I saw him play sax with the Slow Band and he just about peeled the paint off the walls at Harry's. Holy fuck. I'd known him for a while and had no idea- it was like turning on the T.V. and seeing some dude you play softball with standing at a blackboard and explaining how he solved Unified Field Theory with a matchbook and a condom. I thought my ass was going to fall off. One firm, athletic buttock did swing free for a moment but I was able to clench it back into place until a needle and thread became available.
Dave is responsible for the string and orchestral arrangements for "Sick Passenger" and has done some really sick work here. His arrangements are in turn dramatic, whimsical, romantic, cerebral and full of a cut-it-with-a-knife-pathos that defines the record. I didn't know that people still did this; Dave's artistry in these arrangements makes me a little queasy about who we have chosen as our musical idols (like I wasn't already).
If you have read any of my other musings on music, you know I am a great fan of a tightly adhered-to esthetic. "Passenger" succeeds in this amazingly, a feat that I suspect owes the most credit to the Wizard-of-Oz-like Baldwin. The way he approaches the bass lines sounds like he wrote a single one and bent it just slightly to fit each song, so consistent is the thing he seeks to put across. The gestalt of the bass is this syncopated, mixed-way-up ultra precision that sounds classic and even employs a Tina Weymouth-like New Wave gallop during the choruses of the track "Meet The Maker" that is bananas, to quote Jay Z.
There is such a love of music between the grooves of this record that it's like watching someone else's make out session from a bedroom closet. There are nods to Esquivel, to 60's commercial music, to systems music, to the Brill Building and the Wrecking Crew, to Marvin Hamlisch and great movie soundtracks. King Radio avoided pastiche, however, by a) using very muscular, un-60's drum tones, b) Padellaro's unique and arch choirboy falsetto, c) a drum/bass esthetic that is unique, satisfying and innovative, and d) having the record mixed by the brilliant Mitch Easter among other things. Easter's luscious mix is brilliant given the amount of ingredients with which he had to cook his soup, and employs only real reverbs that lend the affair an elegant, undigital spaciousness and sweetness of soundstage. Also important is the consistent use of orchestra bells to play up melodies and countermelodies, and to double guitar and vocal phrases. It give "Passenger" yet another unique calling card.
This type of music can tend to ramble, to hold itself above such commercial pursuits as being consistent in tone and tight in structure, and most importantly, to be done by pussies who are afraid of putting across emotion or hanging their own stylistic tendencies out in front of their influences. Personally, I love a tight ship. Don't get me wrong- I'd just as soon be zonked on all manner of narcotics when building it, but I like it tight. "Passenger" is so tight it pisses mist in the words of someone I once dug a ditch next to. "Passenger" is emotional. Sometimes, as in the lead-off track "Introduction" or the pretty "Dead And Gone", achingly so. Emotional is good. If you want to find out what happens to music when it is helmed by pussies who are afraid of it, turn on commercial radio. Or some fly hip hop.
This record has been reviewed in some very heavy-hitting rags, but each time the reviewer has taken the easy way out and not done it justice. King Radio are so much more than neat pasticheurs and retromaniacs. I would go so far as to call them originals. Sure, most of the influences are pre-1980 but thats really just because music was a lot better pre-1980. That's not their fault; it's a simple fact. Padellaro's vocal mastery has gone largely unremarked as has the fact that the arrangements are of mind-numbing quality. No reviewer has even listened hard enough to remark on what is clearly the beating heart of this body of songs- the astonishing bass work. Were talking Revolver-astonishing. Yeah, I know. My own bass work these days is as Baldwin-inspired as it ever was McCartney-inspired. He makes me feel like such a wanking Jaco.
"Are You The Sick Passenger" reminds me of everyone and no one; the skill with which the tones and production approaches of the classics are borrowed and wed to a unique and innovative esthetic is seamless. I'm so grateful to hear some music that doesn't underestimate me as a listener. I think thats the biggest reason I love King Radio so much.
Oh- the drummer, Paul Peles is kooky awesome. He is so about the arrangements onstage; it is most undrummerlike. He is also shorts-wetting funny and you dont want to have a mouthful of soda when he's fixing to say something.
And that's my review of King Radio's "Are You The Sick Passenger". Thank you, and good night.