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Published: 1998/09/15
by Mark Choh

The Disco Biscuits: Uncivilized Area

Take the word Memphis. Now think of the most unique way to use it as an acronym. Does “Making Easy Money, Pimpin’ Ho’s in Style” come to mind? Probably only if you’ve heard the Disco Biscuits and their newest release, Uncivilized Area, which was released in May.

Amidst the sudden rush of a newer generation of jam bands, like Strangefolk, the Big Wu, and the String Cheese Incident, there is the Disco Biscuits. This quartet met at the University of Pennsylvania in 1994. Maybe it’s something about the Ivy League status that has helped them make a name for themselves in the jam rock scene. But it’s probably just the fact that they are some of the most gifted musicians to arise on the scene today. The Disco Biscuits are, as they themselves put it, “the musical equivalent of sacking and looting a small village.”

Uncivilized Area is the Disco Biscuits second effort, following Encephelous Crime, released in 1996, and is an amazing showcase of the band’s talents. Featuring Jon “the Barber” Gutwillig on guitar, Marc Brownstein on bass, Aron Magner on keys, and Sam Altman on drums, the Biscuits’ have truly explored an uncivilized area on this album. Like most of the third-generation jam rock bands, the Disco Biscuits are heavily rock, jazz, and funk-influenced. However, with a large serving of techno and dance music, fueled by Magner’s heavy use of unique keyboard effects and Altman’s bass-heavy drum beats, the Biscuits create a sound that separates them from the pack.

While Uncivilized Area focuses much more on the rock, jazz, and funk roots that the Disco Biscuits started from, the jam in “Little Betty Boop” offers a touch of the techno-style jamming that has dominated many of the Biscuits’ recent live shows. From the opening riff of “Vassillios”, to the odd rhythms of “Morph Dusseldorf”, to the final notes of “Awol’s Blues”, Gutwillig weaves his way through tight soloing and innovate chord progressions, showing every listener the same skills that caused Trey Anastasio himself to jump out of his seat when he judged Gutwillig at a Burlington guitar competition (at which the Barber took first prize).

Yes, some of the lyrics are a bit crude. Brownstein’s playful chorus of “Jamilia” sings, “Jamilia, I wanna feel you up and lift your skirt right over your head” And as mentioned above, Memphis, Tennessee is the only place to be “when you’re pimpin’ ho’s in style.” But who cares about crude lyrics when you’ve got sick jams like the ones on “Aceetobee” and the epic “I-Man,” two songs which help capture the amazing live feel that Uncivilized Area has.

While the Disco Biscuits show a lot of promise, they are still in their developing stages. For Gutwillig and Brownstein, the vocals on Uncivilized Area are a great improvement from Encephelous Crime, although this improvement hasn’t fully carried over to the live stage. However, singing seems to be the only weak point the Disco Biscuits have. So enter the Uncivilized Area. You won’t be disappointed.

And if you’re wondering about the title of the album, Brownstein sheds some light on the Disco Biscuits’ web page, as he writes, “We have a new van. His name is Agent Cujan (pronounced “ku-yan”). We have a lot of new friends. Some of them are cool. Agent Cujan is green, and thus is often referred to as the ‘Green Pleasure Cruiser’ or the ‘Green Lantern’ or the ‘Green Monster’ or the ‘Green Emerald’ or simply ‘Emeril’. Feigenbaum is in Long Island. We might leave her there, because she’s dead. Spirits are high though, because we can see her whenever we want, which is often it seems. You see, Sammy likes movies, and so do I, but Sammy will go to he movies and I won’t. But Agent Cujan is a movie theatre that I like to be in. He’s a living room, also, and has both civilized and uncivilized areas. I like the civilized area more. In Agent Cujan you can open the door and tell girls to get in, and they will. This is the kind of style I have been waiting for. ‘Get in the car, ladies.’ ‘Sure. Where are we going, fellas?’ ‘Into the uncivilized area, girls.’ ‘Let’s do it. Let’s do it now.’”

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