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Published: 2011/08/31
by Tom Volk

The Disco Biscuits
Otherwise Law Abiding Citizens

If you simply took “The Great Abyss” in isolation, you might think that the Disco Biscuits have finally executed an album that captures the sound of the quartet from Philadelphia in all of their sonic glory. “Abyss,” the opening track from their sixth studio album Otherwise Law Abiding Citizens, feels like the distillation of the essence of all that is good about the Disco Biscuits, everything they have been building towards since their inception in 1995. Spacey dub, thumping four on the floor beats and a soaring outro jam easily thrust this track into the pantheon of their studio work, one that captures everything that makes their sound so vital and enthralling. The problem is that you cannot extrapolate “Great Abyss” out over the duration of the entire album. Instead the course that they plot on OLAC touches on all of the myriad quirks of the Disco Biscuits career; the good, the bad and the ugly are all on the table.

Highlighting their instrumental prowess is easily the smartest move the Biscuits make on the album. Intricate jams dot virtually every track and, to paraphrase something Richard Gehr wrote a long time ago in the Village Voice about the band, it is their ability to attach an extended jam to any song at any time that makes so much of their musical output so damn entertaining. “Spraypaint Victory” probably doesn’t need a triumphant jam attached to the end of it but it is better for having it. Close your eyes for the last four minutes of the song and you could be transported back to the Trocadero in 1999. This is not to say that their sound has not evolved. Listen closely to the spooky leads of Aron Magner during any of “Bombs,” “We Like To Party,” “Lunar Pursuit,” and “Neck Romacer” to understand just how far his playing has come in the past 12 years. Listen closer to discover the layered guitar playing of Jon Gutwillig underneath and understand that no one plays a hybrid lead/rhythm guitar quite like him. Their duels, both on stage and in studio, have become so intertwined and nuanced that it is difficult to know who is leading who at times. It’s musical telepathy at its best. All the while Marc Brownstein and Allen Aucoin hold down the rhythm section like a good offensive line. When the latter is doing its job you barely notice them. It’s only when they make a mistake that they stand out. The former is all substance and no flash on the album, and it’s their restraint (they are both certainly capable of aural bombast) that lays the foundation for the instrumental whimsy of Magner and Gutwillig to flourish.

Instrumentally, this is the best album that the Disco Biscuits have ever recorded by a long shot. However, lest you think it’s all roses on OLAC, stop right there because it’s not. Let’s just skip the conversation on the vocals altogether. I think anyone with an opinion on the positive to negative spectrum of Disco Biscuits approval can agree that their vocals are immaterial for the purposes of review. If you are looking for superior quality in that department, you’re in the wrong place. End of story.

Lyrically, the Disco Biscuits have followed the same arc that a boy going from say, ages 10-15, would go through. Where we once were treated to fantasy driven rock operas and dreamy tales of world explorers, we are now graced mainly with songs that, lyrically, emanate from their collective groin as far as I can tell. In terms of childhood development, we would view this as progress, simply a boy moving through puberty having a rough time with his hormones. But for a very successful rock band entering their 16th year together? I have no answer for that question, all I know is that the thought of Gutwillig crooning Girl I like your style/So let’s go kick it downtown on “Neck Romancer” is almost laughable. In the end, the intricacies of their music are woefully shortchanged by such lyrics.

So we are left with the question: Do we ignore them because of their faults, or simply accept them as part of who they are? If you can get past the lyrical/vocal hurdle, there is some wonderful music awaiting you on the other side. It’s undeniable that all four of them are wonderfully talented musicians. In that respect they are at their best on OLAC. It’s just a shame that they also have a nagging habit of getting in their own way.

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