released Mar 16th, 2010

from the album - On Time

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A jam band active since 1995, the Disco Biscuits play a distinct blend of rock, techno, jazz, soul, blues, and classical music that quickly took them to the upper echelon of the jam-roots-groove scene. Jon "The Barber" Gutwillig, Marc Brownstein, Sam Altman, and Aron Magner met on the University of Pennsylvania campus and formed the Disco Biscuits there in late 1995. They started out with frat party gigs all over Philly, but quickly moved to the nightclub scene. In 1996 they released their indie debut, Encephalous Crime. In addition to their own shows, they toured in support of Merl Saunders, the Black Crowes, the Jerry Garcia Band, and Morphine. Their highly danceable style — guitarist/lead vocalist Jon Gutwillig has declared that the goal of the group is to create the wildest (or craziest) music of all time — has been dubbed "trance fusion" and has drawn some comparisons to Frank Zappa (even though the bandmembers themselves don't hear it). They've been known to break into a classical piece — or a slice of classic jazz — in the middle of an extended rock jam. The Disco Biscuits' songs are written for the live show and a record then results — not the other way around. The band was signed to Hydrophonics Records in 1998 and then released its second CD, The Uncivilized Area. Their third, They Missed the Perfume, hit the streets in 2001. With the group continually growing into a more adventurous combo as time went by, the more organic Señor Boombox came out in the fall of 2002. Altman left the group in 2005, but the band, with replacement drummer Allen Aucoin, continued to play (as well as curate its own successful electronic music festival, Camp Bisco), releasing two live albums: the two-disc The Wind at Four to Fly and the single-disc Rocket 3 in 2006. In 2009 the Disco Biscuits began recording their fifth studio album.

album reiew from high times

The Disco Biscuit’s fifth studio album, Planet Anthem (Diamond Riggs Records) was a long time coming – roughly seven and a half years. During that period, the band lost founding drummer Sammy Altman and replaced him with the fully automatic but less flamboyant Allen Aucoin, in his second decade as Biscuits’ percussionist, and with this band, that carries a lot of responsibility. Bassist/vocalist Marc Brownstein became a father. The band moved back to their hometown, Philadelphia, after vacating the too-mellow vibes of Santa Cruz. They violated unwritten jamband law by barely touring for a couple of years, though they’ve righted that ship lately.

And then there was the utter lack of recorded material after having previously issued four occasionally brilliant albums in six years, from 1996’s Encephalous Crime through 2002’s Senor Boombox. But now finally, we have new Biscuits product, with Planet Anthem being the most overtly pop album the band has ever released. On the surface it might evoke memories of 2001’s They Missed the Perfume, but whereas Perfume was a single-minded techno tour-de-force, Anthem is far more diverse, augmenting the expected trance-fusion elements with hip-hop, dance, pop, jazz, indie and straight-ahead rock and roll experiments (for a band like the Biscuits, playing straight rock qualifies as experimental). Instead of a collection of individual Biscuits members’ songs, Anthem is easily the most collaborative of all Biscuits albums, with a host of outside musicians, singers, producers and even writers (including Harry Zelnick) contributing to this album’s shape (and shape-shifting). Anthem is also unique in that the songs were intended for studio production before live exploration, the opposite of the Biscuits’ previous recording M.O.

“Loose Change” opens the album in almost Pink Floyd-like style with its spacey intro and cash register effects before settling into the main laidback groove led by guitarist/vocalist Jon Gutwillig. “Change” was produced by one of the biggest influences in the development of the Biscuits’ sound, Simon Posford (Hallucinogen, Shpongle, etc), the godfather of the modern trance movement. Lyrically, “Change” recalls Rush’s “The Big Money” with its dualistic take on “money, the root of all evil…money, makes you feel unbelievable.”

The bouncing, dance-floor friendly “On Time” already signals that we’re in unfamiliar Biscuits territory, a track mixed by Posford collaborator OTT with lyrics and rapping by Tu Phace, as he compares the digital world to human relationships. This is one of the Anthem tracks that could open the Biscuits up to a new audience.

The floating psychedelia of “Widgets” is one of the standout tracks on Anthem, and little surprise it was also produced by Posford, with fine complimentary Aucoin percussion and strong contributions from keyboardist/vocalist Aron Magner both on synth and voice. “Widgets” is made memorable by its beguiling chorus, “I’m on the outside, looking in,” a lyric that could serve as both a personal statement and a window to the Biscuits’ own position – they’ve produced some of the most innovative sounds of the last 15 years, yet many bands that have copied their ‘Bisco’ style have achieved greater commercial acceptance and success.

“You and I” abruptly changes gears with a face-punching riff that becomes part of an up-tempo industrial pop excursion, punctuated by some excellent bottom-of-the-swimming-pool bass from Brownstein. “You and I” was co-produced by Magner and Tom Hamilton, of fellow East Coast trance rockers, Brothers Past. With this track, the Biscuits may be on to something, but the style needs further development.

“Konkrete” gets more sinister, with Gutwillig channeling Jim Morrison both lyrically and vocally, poetically reciting: “The words are garbled like alphabet soup, served by an image of your mother, dressed in last night’s clothes, covered in her big wet smile.” All this is interspersed with Gutwillig feedback, ominous Magner synth breakdowns and old school vinyl scratching.

The celestial, (mostly) instrumental “Uber Glue” is already a staple of live Biscuits shows, and serves here as a fitting interlude in the album’s mid-section. “Rain Song” continues on the mellow path with its ethereal lead female vocals, gentle strains and storm sound effects (and no, it’s not a cover of Zeppelin’s “Rain Song” – song titles cannot be copyrighted).

Gutwillig and Zelnick’s “Fish Out of Water” is sure to raise some controversy, due to its commercial intentions; its very name seems to indicate its relative status versus the rest of the Biscuits’ catalog. And while “Fish” signals an attempt at indie pop diversity by the band, it ultimately falls flat as a studio effort (even with The Duo and Furthur’s Joe Russo on guest drums), but maybe this “Fish” can be rescued in the live setting, still the Biscuits’ dominant domain.

“Sweatbox” pushes the aural envelope and lives up to its name with its phasing Magner synth and click-clack Aucoin rhythms. And while the chorus of “I got to do, born to do; maybe I’m the man for you” is a total head rush, the pedestrian rapping (“What’s good pimpin? Disco Biscuits can you dig it?) drops less fulfilling.

Marc Brownstein’s introspective “The City” is perhaps the most ‘old school’ Biscuits track on Anthem. Not so much musically, but as far as vocals and melody are concerned, in that it recalls Brownstein’s work during the Biscuits’ artistic peak that ran from 1999-2002, with its sing-a-long, prescient chorus of “Sitting on a mountaintop, 15 miles above the city, swimming in a melting pot, where you could see the future with me.” Unfortunately, the momentum is not sustained, as Gutwillig and Zelnick’s “Big Wrecking Ball” ventures in the same space as “Fish out of Water” and the results are even more lackluster – at least “Fish” is catchy.

Things improve drastically with the pop progressions of “Vacation,” penned by Gutwillig, Brownstein and Magner. The rare lyrical triumvirate yields impressive results: “Another year still not there, fade away into the air, old man in his rocking chair, silently became you.” Musically, “Vacation” ends in a whirlwind, a transcendent cacophony of seemingly every instrument at the Biscuits’ disposal – if Anthem had been more of this, it would be an instant five-pot leaf classic.

At first listen, album closer “Quad D” is about as unexpected a Biscuits song as it gets with its smooth jazz underscoring sexy vocalist Nikki Jean and her own heartfelt lyrics of combating a life unsatisfied, “I give it away, before I give it a chance.” Later, the music picks up in a brassy fade-out, and surprisingly, it all works – a very compelling ending to the album, confirming the suspicion that the more ambitious facets of Planet Anthem are its most rewarding.

Track Listing

1 Loose Change Brownstein, Gutwillig ... 4:27
2 On Time Chiger, Magner, Tu Phace ... 3:35
3 Widgets Aucoin, Gutwillig, Magner ... 4:41
4 You and I Chiger, Gutwillig, Zelnick 2:54
5 Konkrete Gutwillig, Zelnick 4:05
6 Über Glue Brownstein, Magner, Zelnick 4:50
7 Rain Song Brownstein, Gutwillig ... 5:16
8 Fish Out of Water Chiger, Gutwillig, Zelnick 3:45
9 Sweatbox Gutwillig, Zelnick 2:56
10 The City Brownstein 4:48
11 Big Wrecking Ball Chiger, Gutwillig, Zelnick 3:22
12 Vacation Brownstein, Gutwillig ... 5:23
13 Quad D Gutwillig, Jean, Magner ... 5:52