Chandler Travis Philharmonic Places A Call From The Abyss

by Rob Conroy, Cape Cod Chronicle

The first Chandler Travis Philharmonic album in five years was just unleashed. I believe it’s called “Tarnation & Alastair Sim.” But it might also be called “Kitty;” the disc itself simply says “Al.” It’s hard to tell with the Philharmonic. Like Ween, everything they do strikes me as an elaborately constructed inside joke. But what this album achieves is considerable, it’s some of the best musical gumbo imaginable from this Cape-based (occasionally more, sometimes less) nine-piece outfit.

It’s over an hour of predictably unpredictable sublime goofiness from writer-songsinger Chandler Travis of Eastham. It takes some time to wrap your head around this record. Firstly, there are (count ’em) 48 tracks. (Naturally) it begins with a Christmas song, the first of the 39 “bonus” cuts that open the album.

There aren’t enough synonyms for goofy to describe this record. It veers from sublime to giddy to just plain weird and back, almost by the minute. It’s wonderful, trippy, wild and rewarding.

“Money Won’t Buy You Happiness” sounds like the Incredible Casuals with horns (it’s actually a cover of an early Casuals track — Travis covering Travis). “Dance Goddammit” sounds like a ’70s cartoon theme song on mescaline. Sample lyric “This band’s always had to deal with disappointment/There always seems to be a fruit bat in the ointment.” “Nola” is pure “laisse le bons temps rouler.” Genre busting is the word of the day here.

Perhaps most interesting is the decision making process for what to include on the album. An insane, almost unrecognizable, barely minute-long version of “Brown Eyed Girl”? That’s a track! George Carlin prank calls to an answering machine at two in the morning? That’s a track! Jerry Seinfeld describes the ultimate level of success in comedy as being so funny that other people start talking like you because its so much fun. That’s kind of the position Travis is in. A mature artist who refuses to compromise and simply records what he think sounds cool is a refreshing breeze in a stuffy room full of corporate manufactured pop/plop. This is a consummate musician rocking without restraint, a euphoric workout where commercial success isn’t even an afterthought. It is pure.

“Eje Ka Jo” is bouncing ska with drunken, indecipherable lyrics, possibly in English. “Ronald” is mellow jazz. Its wildly divergent without sounding contrived. The tracks are all over the spectrum; some are six seconds long, others can be described as avant-garde sonic experimentation. Mostly, it works. The record sounds indulgent without pretension, intentionally random, divergent for good reason. Track 40 is a minute and twenty seconds of silence; I can only assume dogs can hear something fun going on.

It feels like sitting around your much hipper buddy’s apartment and going through his vintage vinyl collection while the lava lamp gurgles and you begin to wonder what was in that brownie.

The record ends on (yet) another weird note. The penultimate track is essentially six minutes of silence before we hear a phone ring, which bleeds into the final track, a cracked out version of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” It sounds like you’ve duct-taped blown 1985 Walkman speakers to your head and had a drunken rhinoceros push you on a rope swing.

I like “Kitty,” or “Alastair Sim,” or whatever. In less skillful hands it could have been really annoying. But to me it’s a call from the abyss, a defiant statement of musical independence in the face of boring uniformity. Get weird with the Philharmonic.

The Chandler Travis Philharmonic will perform at the Music In The Port stroll in Harwich Port on Wednesday, July 11.

©2007, Cape Cod Chronicle

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