The Guilt Trip

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The Guilt Trip Review

by Skip Jansen

Only the wit of Bongwater and Shockabilly guitarist and renowned producer Kramer could get away with this -- a three-LP rock opera released as a box set in 1993 on his own Shimmy Disc label. The collection covers a year's work in his Noise New Jersey studio, where he toyed for long hours with the George Martin aesthetic, an answering machine, and his extraordinary gift for pop songwriting (not to mention guitars). Somehow, he sculpted it all into a cohesive whole with The Guilt Trip. What better way to spend an afternoon immersed in psychedelic pop -- it's as though he set out to make his own dream of a '60s concept album. His hybrid sound borrows from the best of the Kinks, the Hollies, John Lennon, and Led Zeppelin fused with his own unique avant rock approach, which is based on the simple deployment of overdubbing and reverb drenching that creates songs that seem to hover in space. Few other artists could pull it off -- the Residents or Half Japanese perhaps -- yet such an audacious undertaking from a solo artist must be commended. That is not to say that The Guilt Trip isn't just a tad self-indulgent. It is utterly self-indulgent, and for that very reason is overwhelming brilliant. Kramer called on a couple of friends (David Licht for drum duties and Randolph A. Hudson for additional guitar), but produced, played, and recorded everything else himself, in just over a year in his studio downtime from his day job as record producer, an occupation in which Kramer challenged Steve Albini for the mantle of most-overworked producer in indie rock. The Guilt Trip's first disc is an entirely well-formed suite that swings between pure psychedelic pop, humorous Led Zeppelin-esque instrumentals, and sampling pastiche/tape collage in pure Bongwater fashion. Kramer's extraordinary ability to fuse sincerity and irony is one key to his work -- a songwriter with an uncanny ability to adopt existing forms. From Beatlesque pop gems such as "Wish I Were in Heaven" through to the warped Americana of "I'm Your Fan," Kramer displays a gift for appropriation and cheeky quotation. If you can take the full-immersion listening experience of the album in one sitting, it is highly recommended to do so, as the exercise reveals more and more with each listen.

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