Drums & Tuba do not always hit the mark on Battles Ole, but they produce some arresting moments, and they seldom fail to be interesting.
Drums & Tuba might be more rightly called Drums, Tuba, and Guitar. The tuba often takes the place of the bass, bringing it closer to a conventional sound. But they are far from being your average indie trio.
Drums & Tuba perform live and even have a live CD, but they seem more oriented toward the studio. The guitars are put through a variety of effects, they use a lot of sampling, and there are points where Brian Wolff simultaneously plays tuba and trumpet. There are no guitar solos. Neal McKeeby prefers to use his guitar more like a synthesizer, for providing color and background instead of lead work. Tony Nozero plays acoustically, although he often substitutes other percussion for his drum kit.
This is the group's ninth release, if you include all the items for sale on their web site, including an outtake CD and a two-song, seven-inch vinyl album.
Unfortunately, the vocals on the CD are nearly impossible to understand, and they are not printed on the CD sleeve or made available on the band's web site. This is the first Drums & Tuba release that includes singing.
Kozero and Wolff have the indie "I can't sing but I don't care attitude", and the parts where they sing are the most mundane of each track. On "If I Die", the quasi-punk singing gives way to a beautiful, slow ambience featuring McKeeby's heavily effected guitar. The dissonant "Complicated Sorrow", which has vocals throughout, is the weakest of the six tracks.
The rest of this 43-minute release has its moments, however. Drums & Tuba's quirkiness takes a certain amount of listening to get used to, but that is perhaps the strongest part of their appeal. There are many twists and turns in these four-and-a-half to ten-and-a-half minute tracks. Furthermore, you never know how any given composition will begin or end.
"Two Dollars" wanders for about a minute and a half with tuba blurts and ambient electronics before the vocals begin over a mix dominated by drums and a sampled tuba bass line. "Four Notes of April" begins with the drums and tuba playing with what sounds like a turntablist. There is just a slight bit of French horn added in the middle by Molly Pate. "The Parting Surface" begins with clips from radio shows.
"Magnum Opie" mixes organ (Rich Vogel of Galactic) with Wolff's tuba and trumpet. Background vocal "aahs", skittery drum sounds, and jagged guitars, both acoustic and electric, are arranged in a mysterious landscape that seems sinister at times, with instruments fading in and out in surreal dialogues, although it contains a solid jazz organ solo.
There are elements of prog rock, punk, jazz, downtempo, jamband, and even classical here. Drums & Tuba do not always hit the mark on "Battles Ole", but they produce some arresting moments, and they seldom fail to be interesting.