Rock Star Bench Press – Mike Dillon’s Go Go Jungle
Read Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” The old bastard teaches an important lesson: crisp, new language is the secret to good writing. Tropes are our foe, professes Orwell, and who are we to challenge his assertion? Apply this idea to music, but not to an extreme, as is too often done so. The music either becomes so “new” it ceases to be pleasing to the ear, or it sounds dull, trite, and Nickelback. Rock Star Bench Press, the sophomore release by Mike Dillon’s Go-Go Jungle, thumps a fine balance betwixt old and new, creating crunchy modern music.
Chicago’s thriving and incestuous jazz sceneTortoise, Ken Vandermark, Isotope 217can be heard, but so can Jane’s Addiction. Think of a punk band whose name would earn you 25 Hipsters Points if you dropped it at a loft party. Now think of a band who would be spuriously described as “seminal proto-punk stalwarts” whose name your dialogist could then drop for 75 Double Hipster Points. There are six possible answers, and each band’s influence can be heard on Rock Star Bench Press. Marco Benevento lends some piano on “Chemtrails,” and it would be super spurious to not acknowledge The Duo’s influence as well as Medeski, Martin & Wood’swho influence the album individually and collectively. Harry Partch, yes, crazy old Harry Partch: luthier, microtonalist, hobo, inside-outside composer, the man who could out-weird weird America, can be heard, or rather seen nodding his head in agreement as Dillon’s vibraphones and xylophones slide, tap, and crawl their way around the album’s seams.
There’s a bit of yelling here, like on the title track and “Redneck Tie Down Your Ladder,” and the first reaction is the same to seeing the rear cover illustration in real life: a clothed man going all in on a wedgy. Ewww. But after listening to the album several times, the yelling, which ultimately comes off as tongue-in-cheek, fits. “Redneck” eventually slows down and spaces out into Nick Cave territory. “Sack O’ Sheet” is fuckin’ hilarious: “You’re a liar. You’re a cheater. “You’re just a sack o’ sheet.” “Surfin’ with You” demonstrates dance music can be emotionally-intense, spooky, and harmonically-probing all at the same time. About the album, Dillon has said: “We wanted to hit people with something beyond what they could have imagined.” And he and his mates, JJ Jungle and Go-Go Ray, have done just that: they have a recorded an album that may indicate a tidal change in progressive music. They have created a crisp, new language for music-makersno small feat. And considering the album is just plain fun to listen to, I applaud them and remain eager for more.