OK, this band is from where again? Tucson, Arizona? Yes, it appears to be true -- Calle Debauche do not hail from, say, Neuchatel, Switzerland, or Uppsala, Sweden. It's surprising enough that Hamster Theatre reside in and around Boulder, Colorado, but somehow Tucson seems even stranger for a group -- like the Hamsters -- with the generally lighthearted avant-prog sound one might equate with albums by Switzerland's L'Ensemble Rayé or Sweden's Hans Bruniusson. Calle Debauche started in 2006 as a guitar-bass-drums trio and drew on a larger lineup for their first recording, an EP entitled Potemkin Carnival released in 2007. Their first full-length, eponymously named as merely Calle Debauche, arrived in April 2009, and it's an impressive release indeed, featuring a five-member core band -- playing guitar, drums/percussion, marimba/glockenspiel, tenor sax, and tuba -- supplemented by several guests here and there on accordion, clarinet, and sitar. Their crisp and nicely layered compositions touch on a world of influences including ska, tango, waltzes, circus and cartoon music, Middle Eastern/Balkan modes, and outright avant-garde, and are generally bright and amiable, but odd and occasionally even unsettling elements hover around the edges.
There are even outright violent noise eruptions -- akin to the needle jumping around on an old vinyl LP during an earthquake with the volume turned to 11 -- on the closing "Son of a Cultural Gladness," most likely attributable to single-monikered guitarist (and principal composer) Mohadev, who elsewhere displays a nicely burnished and sustained tone, not to mention the type of shredding talent one might expect from a metal or hard rock axeman (on the metal meets spaghetti Western soundtrack meets ersatz jazz meets circus fanfare of "Regarding Pete"). In a more conventional band, Mohadev would acquit himself just fine, thank you, but sounds positively inspired -- particularly if you're into uncanny juxtapositions -- backed by a tuba and marimba. If there's a limitation to be found here, it's that the tunes don't quite stick in the mind the way some outright classics of the genre might -- Hamster Theatre's "Jeanne-Marie" or L'Ensemble Rayé's "Cloche-Pied" for example. But those inventive arrangements -- filled with quick-change stylistic curve balls enhanced by masterful production touches -- are at the very least pleasing to the ear, and Calle Debauche are audaciously way outside the loop in even playing this kind of stuff in the 21st century United States. There's warmth to the music as well -- of the type suggesting camaraderie rather than baking under the Tucson sun -- as the aforementioned "Son of Cultural Gladness" ends with a wordless vocal chorus that, with a larger group of people participating, could easily build into a rousing singalong anthem celebrating brotherhood and sisterhood united in a common cause, whether that cause be a good time in a beer hall or a rally for social justice. Here Calle Debauche prove capable of satisfying the heart as well as the head; given their love of complexity and subversions of dance forms, the feet might have to wait.