Desoto Reds look like they’ve been inspired by Monty Python and Devo at the same time. But one can never judge an album by its press photo. The quartet take a page from quirky rock bands like They Might Be Giants and the aforementioned “Whip It” freaks and puree it into their own kind of music—the sort of music that has one shaking their heads asking, “What the @$!%?” but getting into it at the same time. Now, with their third album, Desoto Reds try to get that buzz and keep it for nearly 50 minutes. The opening bicycle bells lead into a keyboard that sounds like the Trachtenburg Family as “Willy Nilly” and “the shy boy” is mentioned in a simple but rather alluring ditty. Lead singer and writer Alex Sterling’s sincerity is the saving grace, sort of like that unknown pop band Bishop Allen. Never moving into a lush Elephant 6 collective rock opus, the Desoto Reds rely on the sum of its chops. They rile themselves up somewhat for the Strokesian “My Affair with Julia Roberts” before the Nieve-esque keys go a tad nutty. It’s a good nutty though as they “have fun with the lights out”. Then they throw a bizarre Oriental portion in, making it all the crazier.
“College Love” is another eclectic and eccentric piece of music, recalling “Istanbul Not Constantinople” but with more of a bounce to it. “This bed is wide enough for one but not for two,” they sing before a Beatles hue circles around it. An eerie but cheesy organ enters but fortunately doesn’t kill the almost haunted groove. Some called it “Jewish wedding meets the Beatles” and truer words might not have been spoken—think of a psychedelic bar mitzvah. “Hot Air Balloon” is the first miscue, and oh boy is it a miscue! Sounding like six songs melded into one, the band doesn’t have a clue where the song is going and it shows—messy and a bit haphazard even for them. Only do a few seconds of the conclusion seem mildly interesting. The Primus-esque “The Gardener” makes up for things a lot, a cheeky ditty that extends itself into Attractions territory, creating a sound that shouldn’t work but does for some reason.
Desoto Reds are consistently inconsistent, making for some fine fun moments but also for tunes that appear to be on a broken tape machine. “Tupper in the Fridge” is an off-kilter track reeking of a broken melody in dire need of repair. Here the band also tries to get much too arty and highbrow, thinking a guitar building at the end will pick up the slack. It only adds to the messy mishmash. “Heaven” is tidier in terms of its arrangement, although the ethereal, sky-reaching ‘60s pop harmonies don’t quite measure up to contemporaries like Matthew Sweet or Ric Menck Think of the Turtles ending “Happy Together” but on low speed dubbing and you get the idea. One great exception is “Howells And Jowls”, relying on a basic school-band keyboard rhythm as Sterling tries to continually hit the high notes during the chorus.
Dedicated to Elliott Smith in its liner notes (as well as to Emile Friedlander), “Something He Ate” comes closest to Smith’s niche—a soft and wistful narrative that is often hushed in tone but with a great chorus. “Elephant Feet” is possibly their best effort of the 14, although it is staggered in its beat but with a nice flow that cuts a minute into the song, and is accented by strings as Stirling recalls early Roger Waters circa Meddle or Atom Heart Mother. Another sleeper is “Psychic Hippie Mom”, a weird and slower track that could be seen as influenced by the later period of the Fab Four. It’s an album that has its moments, but it isn’t for everyone. You’ve been warned.