Bottom of the Hudson: Songs from the Barrel Commando

[25 April 2005]

By Jason MacNeil

When you think of the bottom of the Hudson, you might not have a very enjoyable image in your mind. You could even get a foul taste in your mouth. Not a pretty sight. However, that hasn’t stopped Eli Simon from using it to dub his band. Simon, released his last album, Omaha Record, in 2003, but he has recorded a wealth of material prior to and since that album. Now it is time to catch up a bit so the group has released the first of what might be a series of albums of older tracks. But there is nothing dated about these tunes, except for the fact you might think of old singer-songwriters fronted by the new wave of retro-Nu Wave rockers. This is exemplified on the acoustic jaunt that also contains a bit of keyboards on the lovely, galloping folk-rock of “December is Only a Window”, with Simon sounding a bit like Ray Davies of the Kinks, the lilt slightly distinctive. The tune goes on to soar in the vein of new darlings the Arcade Fire—a shining, building, and contagious ditty nailed perfectly and not wasting a moment of its three minutes and change. Hit replay here . . .

Bottom of the Hudson are definitely onto something with “No Time For Worry”, as it’s more of a roots rock affair that lays down the melody from the start and rides it ‘til the end of the tune. Moving to and fro from a catchy pop to a slight Southern-fried swagger, the number flows despite the minimal amount of percussion here (aside from the bottles being played and a tambourine or cymbal being smacked. “Can you mix a f-king mixer / It’s a world of evil dials”, Simon sings before the tune seems to end rather abruptly. “Lazy Razors” is a tad ragged with Simon and acoustic guitar trying to haul the song along. It works but not as well as the first two gems, despite the sweet harmonies and campfire-ish instrumentation that concludes as gently as it begins.

On “Kind Of Trouble”, which is basically recorded off the floor, Simon has a certain type of harshness in his voice that brings to mind Shane MacGowan telling someone to do something naughty to themselves (an act of self-love?). It evolves into this eerie-sounding mid-tempo tune that would do well with an ordinary 4/4 drumbeat. The keyboards give it that larger feeling, but in the end it could be mistaken for an XTC home demo from Apple Venus Vol. 1. But the album constantly twists and turns, making it very appealing. “Staring at the Sun” isn’t the U2 cover but isn’t a rapid and frantic electro-rock romp that bands like the Killers would do well to imitate. The fact these were recorded years before the current buzz is a testament to Simon’s chops. Although it isn’t the defining moment of the record, it’s quite close.

The breather on the album is the organ-driven “Crazy Little Room”, which has a simplicity to it that conjures up Canadian indie hero Hayden—lovely if yet often sparse. “Crippled and angry / The wealthy don’t trust me”, Simon sings before the rhythm section subtly kicks in. It veers into a loud and menacing guitar howl that gives it a kick in the pants and yet doesn’t destroy the tune. The only disappointment might be the sub-par traditional folk of “Thick Whispers”, which plods along in a swaying, waltz-like manner. The haunting moments are when the tune is extremely effective. A great improvement is the rambling and troubadour-ish “Father Green” that resembles Wilco and Billy Bragg’s collaboration. Closing up shop with “Hallways of Rachel”, Simon and his Bottom of the Hudson rarely scrap the bottom of the musical barrel with this record. It is an engaging and wide-ranging display of songs from a relative unknown ahead of his time.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/bottomofthehudson-songs/