Thursday, April 28, 2016
Over the past decade or so, the idea of the rock band has been in flux. Smaller, more unique acts have become prevalent: anywhere from 1-3 members, sometimes involving laptops or other hi-tech toys, and some sort of unique instrumentation or gimmick in that regard. There are impressive examples out there of one or two person “bands” that get a big sound out of not much more than a guitar and a loop pedal (Dustin Wong being one of my favorites), but traditionalists will probably tell you all this technological corner cutting is hurting the music scene, that some authenticity or intimacy is being lost. Anyone leveling that criticism at independent music should first listen to a bit of Comfort Food’s latest EP: Waffle Frolic. Not only does Waffle Frolic manage to engage listeners with Comfort’s unique funk-noise sound, the musicianship in this two piece is as solid as ever. Waffle Frolic has a strong rhythmic and melodic foundation that’s often improvised on with a plethora of overdubs: trumpet, auxiliary percussion, field recordings, and plenty of pitch shifted or otherwise effected bass flourishes (no guitar on the album). The result is a quirky blend of punk, jazz, funk, noise, and art rock. Fans of Fugazi, Sonic Youth, Tune-Yards, The Bad Plus, or even more traditional funk/jazz acts like Medeski, Martin and Wood, Miles Davis, or Fela Kuti should definitely take notice.
Waffle Frolic has an air of authenticity that is perhaps due to it’s traditional recording process as much as the work ethic of the musicians and engineers. Recording in a real studio is almost a lost tradition in the days of DAWs like Ableton or Pro Tools allowing artists to record and engineer in the comfort of their own bedroom. Recorded in an old Chicago studio, Wall to Wall studios, just before it was shut down this past January, Daniel (bass, trumpet, vox) and Jake (drums, percussion) would first lay down the bass and drums, sometimes recording as many as 20-30 takes for one track. Once they had a jam they liked, then came the array of overdubs, and of course, mixing and mastering (courtesy of Alex Borozan).
Listening to all that hard work, you almost wouldn’t imagine that two musicians were capable of such a sound. It also comes off very natural, un-automated, like these two have been playing together all their lives. The tracks usually start with an infectious groove that progressively builds to a noisy, ecstatic climax that sounds more like a whole psychotic orchestra than a two piece band. The album flirts with chaos but everything is on beat. Everything is in the pocket. It’s a testament to the idea in jazz that there are no wrong notes. As long as it’s got a funky beat, the listener will follow almost anywhere.
Consonant with that idea, the album has sort of a dada or nonsensical character to it. The album and song titles all have quirky, Zappa-esque titles like “Rubber Pickles” or “The Happy-Good Time Fun Situation.” I can’t even explain the dark album cover. It’s either a snap shot from a weird art installation, or a stuffed animal murder scene. Then there’s the rambling tangential monologue by someone’s crazy aunt Karen on “moneypowerglory,” an interesting if not disturbing listen. Through this sort of absurdity, and through stylistic consistency (the repetition of certain melodic elements, etc.), the album is tied together into a cohesive work, rather than just a collection of jams. You won’t find a three minute hit single on the album but the track that comes closest is “Rubber Pickles,” with the catchy, slightly ironic chorus line: “I want to be on the radio. Yes, I swear.”
All the tracks on Waffle Frolic however, are equally fun and weird. Overall, it’s a charming, unique, and rhythmically compelling listen. It’s a contemporary experimental album with an old fashioned authenticity not easily found today. It’s worth more than the five spot they’re asking. That’s for sure.
You can download and stream it on Bandcamp or Already Dead Tapes.