The Electric Peanut Butter Company is the brainchild of two musicians, Adrian Quesada and Shawn Lee, separated by a vast distance which includes the Atlantic Ocean. Mutual admirers of each other’s work, the two met in 2010 and decided to collaborate sometime; when circumstances prevented their doing so in physical proximity, they resorted to emailing music files to one another. Before long they had this album, their first — don’t be confused by the mischievous “Vol. 2” — and a whole mess of funky, bass-heavy, groovy tracks it is. A conscious throwback to the 1960s in sound and style, Trans-Atlantic Psych Classics is an intoxicating mix of soupy sounds, soulful vocals, reverb aplenty, and a bottom end that never quits. It’s a great record, in other words, and ideal for almost any mood.
It takes some time to get rolling, though. Opening track “The Rain” is deceptively low-key, with its reliance on a repetitive vocal, looping bass line, and a bit of well-placed keyboard noodling, while follow-up “Backstreet Wall” is considerably stronger thanks to more interesting vocals and a sinewy, sinister arrangement. Neither song is disastrous, but nor is either immediately compelling; it’s a less-than-auspicious start that is followed by the two weakest songs on the album. “Cold Blood” is a typically misogynistic take on the tired 1960s I-shot-my-cheating-woman genre, while an admittedly unique version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” is still hampered by the vapidity of the original, which is countered only by the vocals of Stevie Nicks, who is of course absent here.
So, four songs in, you’d be forgiven for thinking Hmmm… and reaching for the eject button (which is exactly what I did the first couple times through). Happily, things take a quick 180 and then start getting lively. “El Prudence” is a brief instrumental interlude which, after several listenings, reveals itself to be a take on the chord progression from the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”, one of the Fab’s best and most underrated songs. Quesada and Lee could have done a little more with it, but whatever. Then comes a string of standouts: instrumental “Big Tweed” with its catchy stop-and-start rhythm and loping bass; the soulful “Alfonso”, which incorporates Lee’s falsetto-laden vocals to excellent effect; the ridiculously catchy “Mono Man”, with its hypnotic organ lines and Jackson Pollack-ish splashes of guitar distortion; and “The Devil”, which deftly incorporates a throbbing beat and a bass hook that’s a standout on an album already filled with them.
These songs are all strong, and the back third of the album loses little by way of energy or verve. The best cut late in the game is probably “Going In Circles”, although there’s not a weak tune here, and a case could be made for either the dreamy, change-of-pace instrumental “Mama Lion” or closing track “Tape Lifter”, with its thrumming bass and shimmering keyboards, as being the most memorable.
Half these tracks are instrumentals, but they serve as bridges and segues between the other tracks, not to mention being mighty engaging grooves in their own right, so the lack of vocals is rarely felt as a drawback. The vocals, when they do appear, are all provided by Lee, and his voice is as buttery-smooth as you would want for this kind of late-night soul/funk/psych. In fact, one of my gripes about “Cold Blood” is that Lee’s voice is too smooth for what ought to be a harrowing tale of betrayal and murder.
But hey, that’s just one song. Trans-Atlantic Psych Classics Vo. 2 suffers from a weak opening but soon rights itself to finish strong. Clearly, Quesada and Lee are having plenty of fun here, and it shows. The next time somebody grouses, “They sure don’t make ’em like they used to”, just shove a copy of this album in front of them and say: “Hey! These guys did”.