By: Eric Greenwood
According to the band’s bio, I am lazy if I compare This Busy Monster to XTC. I could accept that criticism if that were all I to convey. Lead singer Christopher Possanza also sounds like Joe Jackson. However, in addition to drawing inspiration from both XTC and Joe Jackson, This Busy Monster conjures a folksy yet ostentatious brand of (indie) pop, replete with horns, strings, banjos and even singing saws. The trio at the core of this busy music has an obvious aptitude for obscure melodies and discordant progressions that will leave an indelible mark on your jaded ears.
"What She Said" (not The Smiths song) is an uncharacteristically rocking anthem, opening an album called Fireworks with the appropriate jolt. Surging guitars back Possanza's guttural angst along with a semi-dramatic rhythm section. The lyrics are willfully obscure and strangely poetic: "I've got eyes in the back of my head/the nails on my fingers they glow in the dark/I've twice been divorced as I remember it/once on a farm and then once in the dark." Switching gears completely on "Loup-Garou", the band sounds like a roadside attraction. Plucked banjos and a clarinet fight fuzzed out guitars and Possanza's domineering voice for attention. Don't be fooled by the homespun melody and jaunty rhythm- there's always something dark lurking underneath the surface.
The quirkiness of "Smell Of Blood" may reinforce the XTC comparison, but This Busy Monster confirms that its penchant for catchy pop is, in fact, legitimate. And lines like "you'll have to forgive me for many things/I smoke 'cause I can't stand the smell of blood" only enhance the band's charm. "Swoon" is dark and folksy. Snare brushes shuffle behind a timid acoustic guitar. The bass is sparing in its jazzy runs, and Possanza's harmonies are effortless, despite the awkward phrasing of his lyrics. When the band finds itself trapped by indie rock cliches it manages to wriggle out unscathed through versatile playing and inventive structures.
Quirkiness often leads to self-indulgence and pretension, and This Busy Monster is hardly immune. "The Thing" meanders aimlessly through an overly dramatic build-up, which lasts almost four minutes before it explodes into an all-too-brief reprieve. The meaningless lyrics only drag it further into the realm of unmitigated masturbation. "White Rabbit" (not the Jefferson Airplane song) pulls the band out of the hole momentarily with herky-jerky guitars and loose percussion, but snoozers like "Time To Sleep" and "Gold Stopwatch" fall prey to excessive exhibitionism. Fireworks could easily do without the ballads. For some reason the band decided to clump them all at the end.
Fireworks is an intriguing album; I keep coming back to it. The talent is undeniable, and the songwriting is unique. The band is hard to pigeonhole and that's admirable in today's cluttered and derivative underground scene. Despite a few obvious influences, This Busy Monster retains its individuality on its second album. The experimentation backfires occasionally, but what band doesn't trip when it travels down an obscure path? If at least a handful of these songs don't excite you, I don't know what will.