I’m a big fan of Chris Thomson. I remember the first time I heard the Monorchid, it was at a show they played in a windowless art-space in Ottawa, during the dead heat of summer. There was something immediately compelling about this man dressed in a cowboy shirt, singing weird and at times hilarious lyrics over thick slabs of battered, southern fried riffs. After the Monorchid broke up, I followed Thomson’s shenanigans into his next band, Skull Kontrol. Though a little more straight-ahead than the Monorchid, Skull Kontrol was a leaner but no less enjoyable machine, featuring more of Thomson’s delightfuly off-center caterwauling. Even after the dissolution of Skull Kontrol, I kept an ear to the ground for any projects involving Thomson, and even picked up a seven-inch by an obscure band called the Catholic Church, simply because Thomson was a guest performer.
It had been a couple years since the last Thomson project proper, until early last year when he reappeared with a new group called the Red Eyed Legends. I was excited to hear this new band, and became even more intrigued when I heard that their debut EP was going to be released on Gold Standard Laboratories, the California home to all things weird. Unfortunately, The High I Feel When I’m Low was a disappointment, and found Thomson and his group fumbling to make any sort of cohesive statement. In the brief nine months between releases, the Red Eyed Legends seem to be making progress, and their newest EP, Mutual Insignificance, while not the homerun I was hoping for, is the sound of a band that is beginning to learn its strengths and weaknesses.
The first noticeable difference between the two EPs is the songs themselves. Where on The High I Feel When I’m Low, songs meandered into territory (particularly dub and noise) that didn’t suit the band, Mutual Insignificance cuts out the fat and delivers five tight, efficient tunes. The production itself is also much better, allowing each instrument to deliver a crisp, clear attack. What becomes immediately apparent upon spinning the disc is drummer Paul John Higgins. Undoubtedly the band’s secret weapon, his drumming is positively inspired, giving these songs the driving force and unhinged manic energy that other players seem to have forgotten upon entering the studio.
It’s hard for me to admit it, but the biggest problem the Red Eyed Legends face is Thomson himself. Keyboardist/guitarist Kiki Yablon and bassist Jason Dummeldinger provide a nice platter of funked-out riffs, but Thomson seems a world away, and his performance on the disc feels nothing more than phoned in. For a longtime fan such as myself, this is both disheartening and puzzling. Whereas in past groups Thomson’s ramblings followed the melodic flow of the song—no matter how twisted—here he simply sings/talks over the songs, resulting in music that never quite peaks or packs the punch the listener is expecting. Even on “Cold in the Sun”, where the band comes to a full stop to have Thomson sing the track’s namesake, he seems distant and perhaps even bored. Thomson seems to be relying on his odd nasal voice alone, rather than engaging the song with the kind of performance that made his work with the Monorchid and Skull Kontrol so fascinating.
With Mutual Insignificance, the Red Eyed Legends prove they’re poised for something great. However, whether they achieve the potential they have laid out on this EP will be up to Thomson himself.