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Published: 2004/02/26
by Brian Gearing

TranceFusionRadio_Broadcast_04 – The Disco Biscuits


Don't let the yippy-skippy guitar and keyboard riffs fool you, The Disco
Biscuits are not happy people. The liner notes for their fourth edition in
the TranceFusionRadio series let the listener know that "this is who we
are," and while there may be the occasional major key jam and a goofy cover
song, the Biscuits make it abundantly clear that they are haunted by both
the past and the future. The Biscuits' painful memories and creeping
anxiety are great for listeners, though: the Philly foursome are at their
best exploring the dark underbelly of improvisational rock, and for the most
part, that's what they stick to on TranceFusionRadio_Broadcast_4.

The instrumental introduction to bassist Marc Brownstein's "Therapy" is
bouncy and upbeat, but the sonic bliss only serves as an eerie counterpoint
to a lonely child's dejection from growing up with divorced parents. A
"brand new car, VCR. . . and Commodore 64" are the material pleasantries
that can't heal the wounds of a boy who rarely sees his father. It's
refreshing to see a jamband that doesn't hide behind cryptic lyrics, and
Brownstein's shaky voice is the only thing that keeps this song from being
just inches away from radio friendly.

The next two tracks, both new in 2003, dispense with the instrumental
pleasantries and plunge straight into the darkness, showing just what The
Disco Biscuits are capable of when they explore their shady side.
Brownstein and drummer Sam Altman lay down a nasty drum-n-bass groove that
pushes "Pilin' It Higher" deep into the shadowy back alley of rock and roll
addiction, and while Jon Gutwillig's voice may not be pretty, it erupts the
frustrated soul of a man who knows he should stop but can't because it feels
too good. "Fever" takes a shortcut through a dank, dark forest to reach the
thundering heights for which most Biscuits' songs would take the long way
'round. Brownstein and Altman's bottom and Gutwillig's power chords pack
enough rock and roll destruction to fill a Guns 'n' Roses highlight film,
but they create a dark, sinister groove that is unmistakably Bisco.

The closing triple-decker sandwich drags on far too long and lacks the
sustained intensity of the second and third tracks, but it has its moments,
namely the transition from "Magellan" into "Once the Fiddler Paid." After
five uneventful minutes during the "Magellan" interlude, the band finally
breaks through the monotony with a funky, bouncing jam that takes off
tripping over the waves until it rises into one of the few truly joyous
moments on the disc. When they finally stop to get their bearings, the
Biscuits find themselves soaring over the closing notes of an inverted "Once
the Fiddler Paid," and – by the time it crashes back down into the chorus – it's a huge relief, like catching one's breath after an uncontrollable
laughing fit. It's a good thing, too, because without a small degree of
levity, the intermingling of the closing "Magellan" with an off-key "Stir It
Up" would be almost unbearable.

The Disco Biscuits may not be getting calls for choir practice anytime soon,
but as long as they can growl their way through the shadowy fringes of jam
music, they'll always have something to claim as their own. While
"Magellan" and "Once the Fiddler Paid" share a common aesthetic with a lot
of other jambands, "Pilin' It High" and "Fever" have an edge that is
distinctly Bisco. Gutwillig and keyboardist Aron Magner (who is strangely
low-key on TFRB4) tend to occupy the stratosphere most often, but The
Disco Biscuits would be just another generic jamband without their rhythm
section to provide the devilish counterpoint to the angelic solo tag-team.
There is something dark and unsettling about Brownstein and Altman's
grooves, and the Biscuits do well to follow them through a good part of
TranceFusionRadio_Broadcast_04, which ultimately documents a band
growing more and more comfortable with itself, enabling it to find light in
the darkest of places.

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