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Published: 2004/05/29
by Glenn Alexander

Holy Happy Hour – Stockholm Syndrome

Terminus Records 0403-2

Seconds into Holy Happy Hour, Jerry Joseph sings about "beautiful violence, beautiful sex, beautiful altars, beautiful wrecks." This dialogue about the downward spiral of a culture addicted to its most absurd traits proves to be a good way to ease you into an album that delves very, very deep into the dark recesses of humankind, often pointing a finger at current affairs. The music cradles all of the word play and commentary found here, often matching the incredible imagery and philosophy of the lyrics with a paintbrush all its own.

Comprised of five very able, skilled and interesting musicians, Holy Happy Hour does not indulge itself too much in the quirks of each musician. Instead, it moves along with the stories being told, stopping every now and then in sordid attempts to find redemption in the sorrow of the songs or possibly to exorcise the demons unleashed in the lyrics. This is a very heavy album. Songs like "Bouncing Very Well," and "One in My Hand" are relaxed and soft in approach, but carry a heavy weight in the moral and personal baggage that they exude. "Bouncing" is ultimately an optimistic look on life, but the imagery Joseph uses can be off-setting: "Questioning me while I’m tied to a chair/Sleep deprivation and sexual torture/It’s nice to know that you still really care." Imagery abounds on Holy Happy Hour, yet it is so brash and imminently forceful, it leaves little to the imagination.

Consisting of the versatile Eric McFadden on guitar, classically-trained German keyboardist Danny Dziuk, L.A session veteran Wally Ingram on drums, Dave Schools of Widespread Panic on bass, and writer/artist Jerry Joseph, the band is certainly a capable entity, able to drop in heavy, hard-hitting riffs ("Counter-Clock World") or easy, rolling melodies ("One in My Hand") at the drop of a hat. Regardless of the incredible talent of McFadden and Schools, this album belongs to Joseph. His gravelly voice carries the album from beginning to end, weaving its way in and out of despair, anger, love, and almost towards redemption.

Most of the album is hard, edgy, crisp, and bright. "White Dirt" is a vividly narrative reflection on trying to find redemption in the presence of loss and the Elvis Costello/lounge-act inspired "Purple Heart" deals with the contradiction and injustices found in war. "American Fork" attempts to interpret America's obsession with its own greatness. Mass media, religion, corporate corruption, racism, globalization, drugs, genocide, and patriotism are used as spotlights intended to illuminate the ignored demons of our past and present on "Fork." The song is explosively political, lending itself to brash declarations and absurd, yet depressingly realistic scenarios such as:

Clear the channel for the next bling-bling

And sell it to the kids with a strap-on dick

Ayatollahs versus Coca-Cola

Drink black water while the blood runs thick

Joseph never tries to ease you into his way of looking at the world. He expects you to come along for the ride, or get off at the first stop.

The lyrics overshadow the music except when the music can actually breathe, like on the heated cover of "Couldn't Get it Right," a pumping, edgy rock tune. The band is playing more to its instincts and exploring the groove of the music instead of creating more crafted atmospheres. Schools emerges with his first bass solo here, and it might be the first time you really notice him. For the rest of the album, he sounds immersed and locked in, his bass playing not exposing itself through the sharp angles and thumping, punctuated bursts that have helped define him.

The lyrics on Holy Happy Hour prove incredibly adept at ripping right to the bones of issues without being overly transparent or cliche. They are full of imagery and anger, and prove to be too dense to digest in one sitting. In the end, however, the words are what linger, creating an interesting challenge to the listener to put the music back in for the music’s sake. Yet, the music is interesting in the sense that it never tries to hard to overpower, shock, or surprise you; the lyrics prove more adept at this. These guys can rock out with the best of them, but that isn’t what’s compelling about the album. In fact, the music is most stunning in moments where it is relaxed and free, when each member is left to their own devices of nuance. For a band that has only been together for a matter of months, the album proves a powerful testament to the talent of the players and even more to their ability to find strength in numbers, rather than in their own narrowly defined talents. Lucidly composed images and edgy, dark music abounds here. It is a commitment to be sure, but one that’s bound to make you think, whether you’re asking to or not.

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