[21 October 2003]
Jason Trachtenburg plied his singer-songwriter trade for several years with little success, but when he and his wife Tina found some old movie slides, a certain germ of an idea was planted. And from that germ can come one heck of a gem. Of course, the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players aren’t your average rock group. Jason and Tina are two of the three main components, but where would they be without their adorable daughter, nine-year-old Rachel, on drums? Selling out various venues in New York City and landing a slot on Late Night with Conan O’Brien have only added to the gloss. But despite the quirky nature to the band’s formation, the songs aren’t all that bad.
Opening up with “Mountain Trip to Japan, 1959”, Jason takes lead vocals with subtle harmonies in some parts. With the liner notes featuring some of the slides (which Tina projects during the band’s live sets and which you can view by putting the disc in a computer), the song has a lot in common with a melody Ben Folds would conjure up. The simple backbeat makes it all the more enjoyable when you realize who is keeping it. The piano is another key component to the track, with its bouncy, school sing-a-long nature. A harmonica is added near the homestretch courtesy of Rachel. The lyrics here deal with execution and hanging, something that shouldn’t be lost in all the happiness.
“European Boys” features an accordion in a Celtic-like format; “European boys, European boys, European boys looking for sausage”, Jason and Rachel sing before Rachel lets out a muddled dog howl. The song’s swaying nature is another plus as Rachel gets more comfortable vocally a minute in. A lot of people might think that this is child exploitation, but it’s hard to see the claim being valid. The song is one of the early and many highlights during the disc’s nearly 40 minutes. “We’ll talk a trip into Satan’s living room,” the number says before softly fading out. “Fondue Friends in Switzerland” is another simplistic bare-bones melody that ambles along at a smoother pace. There’s also a slight country sound underneath the arrangement as Rachel follows the main vocal with a refrain. Here the group takes on the big food corporations like Quaker Oats and the golden arches.
“Eggs” is more of a quasi-rocker with the record’s first notable guitar riff. Talking about Easter Sunday, the title is repeated with Rachel singing along with dad as the “Brady Bunch stage” is mentioned. Although not quite as tight as the other songs, the guitar work, courtesy of Phil Hurley, is a refreshing change. “You gotta have to watch for a kick in the crotch / Put down your eggs”, one line goes, surely resulting in a laugh or grin. “Opnad Contribution Study Committee Report, June 1977” has a certain ethereal tone, as if it’s the beginning of a magnus opus (or a Meat Loaf song), but it’s less than one minute long.
“What Will the Corporation Do?” is another catchy, piano-driven tune, but has Jason Trachtenburg delivering the lines a bit like a rap in certain instances. “Wendy’s, Sambo’s, and Long John Silver’s” is a moody and rather dark tune that features Rachel’s vocals sounding, well, like a nine-year-old girl’s should. Name dropping more fast-food restaurants and their efficiency, this tune comes off like it’s part of an unfinished concept album. The different tempo of “Let’s Not Have the Same Weight in 1978—Let’s Have More” is a continuation of the assault on McDonalds. The track has a bit in common with Billy Swan’s “I Can Help”.
“Why Did We Decide to Take this Decision to You?” is another brief ditty, while “Together as a System We are Unbeatable” opens with instruments being tuned. Yet again, it’s another light but memorably toe-tapping tune. “Together as a system we are the best in the world”, father and daughter harmonize on the over-the-top tune’s conclusion. Wrapping things up is “Believing in You”, which seems a perfect ending to this highly enjoyable and refreshing approach to melody. They open the song with, “I’d like to thank you all so for listening / For taking time during your busy busy day”, mentioning magazines and the press’s kind words. After listening to this album, though, and knowing its origins, it’s hard to knock anything about the effort.