Sumack

Now Hear This

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AllMusic Review by

Sumack may call its music "junk rock," but sells itself short with that term. A cross between Soul Coughing and Timbuk 3, this Los Angeles band serves up a well-tailored smorgasbord of groove, social and psychological insight, and topical commentary. And even when it misses the mark (most off-track, despite its prettiness, is "The Ballad of Frank & Charlie," a saccharine cap to an otherwise sharp-eyed disc), Sumack's heart and head are in the right place. "Metaphysical," the first track, is a dandy, living up to its title even while trashing it. Sparked by Mark McAdam's tart guitar, it chronicles the way a hero so modest he's arrogant resists the advances of a Valley Girl gone granola. Not only does it send up all things "natural," it does so in a funny, contemporary way. "I'm no guru," indeed. The scenescapes Sumack paints can be zany -- take "Do Si Do," a slacker dance tune about wallflowers and insecurity. The chorus is recognizable, but the bleeps aren't; all combine to craft a picture that's nearly familiar, but not quite. Like so many other Sumack songs, this makes the listener strain for something that's apparently a bit out of earshot. And all the while, Sumack sings passionately, alternating minimalist arrangements with full-bodied vocals to create nifty, unexpected delights. The disc boasts all kinds of what might be called symmetries, with songs functioning as doppelgängers, linking meaning even when the tracks don't adjoin. The wistful shuffle, "Downfall Days," packed with cowbell and turntable scratch, is a kind of companion to the collegiate picture of "Hey Professor," one of the best songs ever written about a Volvo. The twangy, rocking "Superdome," Sumack's homage to the Beastie Boys, shares terrain, if not sonics, with the minimalist rockabilly "Train Song." But trying to categorize Sumack's music is fruitless; as the band itself apparently thinks, all you could come up with is hyphenates. Maybe that's why McAdam and drummer Pete McNeil call their music "junk rock." It's a simple way to sum up Sumack's omnivorous, fascinating style. The proof of Sumack's pudding is that you find yourself humming their tunes even though you're not quite sure what they mean.

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