MusicDish e-Journal - December 11, 2019
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Tvfordogs: Barking up the right tree with Heavy Denver
By Mark Kirby
(more articles from this author)
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...they meld various styles into a distinctive sound earmarked by Neil Luckett's voice that recalls Guided By Voices' Bob Pollard and XTC's Andy Partridge, mixed with the sincere rock histrionics of Iggy Pop. His guitar is raw, noisy, and intense but also intricate, quiet and subtle (raw and cooked?), often in the same song.

So much is wrong with rock music today. Rap rock beer commercial soundtracks are the new grunge. And radio, I mean the Clear Channel network? Please. Never mind downloads, CD sales are down because of bad content. Image, sales, cross promotion - these are the watchwords of today's music. What about songs and emotion? Check out tvfordogs' "Heavy Denver."

Unlike most rock, which has all the depth of a one-trick pony, tvfordogs, like the best rock bands past and present, shift gears and blend the songs on the CD in a way that not only puts the individual songs in best relief, but take the listener on a journey, without being all over the map, helter skelter. How do they do it? First of all, they meld various styles into a distinctive sound earmarked by Neil Luckett's voice that recalls Guided By Voices' Bob Pollard and XTC's Andy Partridge, mixed with the sincere rock histrionics of Iggy Pop. His guitar is raw, noisy, and intense but also intricate, quiet and subtle (raw and cooked?), often in the same song. Secondly, the band plays tastefully and in service of the songs. Andres Luengo's drumming is especially noteworthy. His shifting beats, rolls, and accents propel the music, providing actual musical accompaniment, not unlike Ringo Starr (check whiplash inducing beat shifts on "Clouds"). Mark Horner's bass rocks the bottom end, but adds melodic counterpoint. Adding more distinct flava are the percussion, strings, guitar and noises of Sarah Freestone, tvfordogs' Brian Jones-like wild card. Her colorings shine on "Capsule Wardrobe," where her piano riff and metallic atmospherics provide the sound bed out of which the ever rising power ballad emerges, layer by layer. Mr. Luckett writes, "Among my favorite songwriters are the Beatles..." Indeed, it's touches like these and the string quartet on "Too Soon to Leave" that bear this out more so than the pop harmonies and deceptively complex song writing evidenced by the ought-to-be classic "Around," with its rising and falling vocal melodies that harmonically resolve in surprising yet logical ways.

MP3: "Capsule Wardrobe"

One thing that plagues of rock bands is that what can sound like a unified style on record, sounds like a one riff song played ad nauseam live in concert, i.e., they bore and disappoint (the Strokes). That's not a problem here. "When I first started... I was into punk. Now I write string quartets," states Luckett. Just like Bowie, Guided By Voices, and other rock musicians that still inspire and sell records, in defiance of the industry, this band proves that trendy "innocence" can't front on skill and experience. The depth and command of tvfordogs' musical palette must surely make for a cool live experience (seen Bowie live this year?).

Besides working with the usual forms - punk variants, power pop, the ubiquitous "emo" - tvfordogs reaches back, or forward, in the song "Emergent." In a nod to prog rock pioneers like King Crimson and Air, er, I mean Pink Floyd, this lovely instrumental of strings, synths, and percussion sounds floats on gentle variations of a sweet simple melody. Even the ancient grunge formula, in these talented hands, appears fresh. Witness the song "Keep it Coming." It starts with drums playing a subtle back beat and vibrating guitar over which ghostly vocals sail: "Keep it coming... My ears are singing and my fingers' drummin'/ give me time give me love give me something but keep it coming." Then the song crashes the loud chorus: "I'm not surprised it's come to this, it was always there, I won't deny I can't resist... don't turn me off or bring me 'round." This musical screed on raw desire takes a lyrical turn that has Kurt Cobain's head noddin', so to speak, in the afterlife: "Keep it coming... my skin is burning, walls still turning, guess that's something so keep it coming." Alas, while their sound is radio friendly, their intelligence and variety of songs will prevent them from obtaining corporate sponsorship, but we can enjoy them and be moved.

I engaged band leader Neil Luckett (NL) in the following witty repartee.

Q. Getting your music to the world is so tough. Why did you decide to make music in the first place?

NL: Getting music to the world is tough but I think of that as a separate issue to making the music in the first place. I have no real reasons for making music other than it's great fun and good therapy. I don't remember ever making any conscious decision to make music, I just bought a guitar as a lot of teenagers do. I messed around with it and enjoyed the sounds I could make, the people I would meet through playing, and the songs we would write.

Q. What are your earliest musical memories? Did your parents play music in the house?

NL: My earliest musical memories are of fairly serious music being played around the house... Mahler, Janacek and others, but a lot of lighter classical music, too. My parents took my brother and I to classical concerts when we were very young. I remember us both protesting strongly, but, in retrospect, I'm really glad for those early experiences.

Q. How has the media in England and the rest of Europe treated your band? I know the Brits can be persnickety (critical) and irreverent (takin' the piss outta you). When will tvfordogs, like the Beatles and Culture Club before you, conquer America?

NL: Strangely, we haven't got to the stage of engaging the media in England and the rest of Europe yet. America was our first port of call. Perhaps that was a decision subconsciously made to avoid persnicketiness and irreverence, but we'll let you know how we get on when we encounter them. Well, it's going to be hard to walk in the footsteps of those two giants, but we'll be coming over as soon as possible and who knows?

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