Keneally Band, Mike - Dog

Year of Release: 2004
Label: Exowax
Catalog Number: Exowax 2406
Format: CD
Total Time: 55:42:00

Though I had heard of Mike Keneally - and not just because of previously published reviews - it was not until CalProg 2004 that I had actually heard him play. It was on that night that the Mike Keneally Band debuted their debut release Dog in its entirety, in song order. I usually try to prepare for a festival by listening to some of the artists music beforehand, but I didn't have an opportunity to do so this time. But, hours before their set (and in fact, before the festival even started) I picked up a copy of Dog (the deluxe version also includes a DVD).

The music on Dog is really the focus (versus the vocals) and my favorite part. Keneally might just have easily called this "mongrel," since we get different breeds at play here. It's a mix of jazz, rock, metal, grunge, and, in places, techno and classical (most of these in one track alone). Dog is juxtaposition between well-adjusted (and complex) arrangements and eccentric, obtuse lyrics. Keneally borrows freely from all musical conventions to help paint his music, and in the longest piece on the album, "This Tastes Like A Hotel" you'll find many of these elements in succession? and in fact, this is a suite of moments too small and fractured to be called vignettes. The touchstone is an airy, spacey passage that is mostly Keneally singing in a non-quite-falsetto in a swirl of keyboard effects - the first time, second time around, it's morass of guitar effects; it, ironically, grounds the song. It is here that we hear snippets of Keneally's work with The Metropole Orkest, the full work just released on CD. It's the centerpiece to the album and the place where you will hear smoking guitar solos; interesting, though short-lived, musical ideas; and, as you might expect from something with disparate elements, lots of texture.

There are two general moods from Keneally here - one, cheerful or cherubic; the other, serious, but not morose (and neither have anything to do with the lyrics). In all instances Keneally delivers the vocals as if he were neither singing something strange or that something strange musically is going on behind him. In the first category we have the bright and sunny "Splane," a track that might make you think of the "feel good" pop of the 70s, even as this adds a bit more a jazzy vibe to the music. And how can this not be infectious as he merrily "la las" along at the end of choruses? Another example is "Gravity Grab," which Keneally introduced as his strangest piece to date. I can't say if that's true, but it is strange, and yet quite appealing. It's very jazzy in that 40s-50s soft-shoe mode? and yet that doesn't quite put the finger on the reference? I'm thinking of musicals from the period and the choruses (supporting cast)? "Panda" kind of bridges the two moods, being both cheerful and upbeat, and yet also very serious. This bluesy, mellow tune is a love song of sorts, and is the most direct piece on the album lyrically.

In the latter category, there's the first track, "Louie," a crunchy, chunky, churning, rocking piece, offset by soaring, sing-song like vocals. A jam at the end includes screaming, wheezy, countrified, slide guitar solo from Keneally while drummer Nick D'Virgilio (Spock's Beard, NDV) bashes away in the background and guitarist Rick Mussallam and bassist Bryan Beller churn away alongside. Next there's "Bober," a mellower piece that begins with a bit of tinkling xylophone and reveals this band's musical connection to fellow California artists/bands such as the late Kevin Gilbert and Spock's Beard (aside from the presence of drummer D'Virgilio). Oh, Keneally is more eccentric than either, but there is just a vibe or a pulse that you came from the same or similar well-spring. And I'm sure this eccentric feel springs from his past association with the late Frank Zappa. The warm, jazzy "Raining Sound" that has that "single" kind of sound to it? but back in a time when ? pop was artier. "Pride Is A Sin" brings in a bit of a grungey, grinding country feel to the proceedings.

A piece that fits neither category is the instrumental "Physics," which is a squelchy, wet and sticky piece that sends you into some psychedelic techno sci-fi universe of swooping neon spaceships and quivering, floating jellyfish that glow most unnaturally. Lots of strange percussive sounds create this image.

"Simple Pleasures" is a piece that works for me the least, and maybe because it makes the least definitive statement. The vocals slur out of Keneally making them seem to be some amorphous entity while choppy musical arrangement seems? uncertain, hesitant to finish a thought. And though I like the funky, choppy guitar phrases from Keneally on "Choosing To Drown," it's also a piece that mostly leaves me a bit cold, and not just because it's very strange (stranger than "Gravity Grab"). The second half (which seems very SB-like) is more appealing.

Reading the lyrics (which aren't included in the booklet but are available at the Keneally website), you may not get at all what Keneally is on about, but you know there some point in between lines, some meaning that you will understand intuitively. But also the words seem placed for musical effect not their semantics. Oh, they make sense structurally, they aren't random words put together? it's the underlying meaning that is obscure.

I'd have to listen to more from Keneally and co. before I could say how this rates against his other material (I've read elsewhere that this rocks more compared to past stuff), but I have enjoyed listening to it, finding my favourites are "Louie," "Splane," and "Gravity Grab" with "?Hotel" running a very close second. It's a fun listen.

Louie (6:37) / Bober (6:47) / Splane (2:59) / Pride Is A Sin (4:54) / Simple Pleasure (1:56) / Physics (1:35) / Raining Sound (2:16) / Choosing To Drown (4:54) / Gravity Grab (3:33) / This Tastes Like A Hotel (15:15) / Panda (4:52)

Mike Keneally - guitar, vocals, keyboards
Bryan Beller - bass
Nick D'Virgilio - drums, percussion
Rick Musallam - guitars, vocals

Mike Keneally - Hat (1992)
Mike Keneally - Boil That Dust Speck (1994)
Mike Keneally and Beer For Dolphins - Half Alive In Hollywood (1996)
Mike Keneally - The Tar Tapes Vol. 1 (1983-1991, released 1997)
Mike Keneally - Giant Tracks (1997) (HyberNation Gentle Giant tribute album compilation)
Mike Keneally and Beer For Dolphins - Sluggo! (1997)
Mike Keneally - The Tar Tapes Vol. 2 (1982-1991, released 1998)
Mike Keneally - Nonkertompf (1999)
Mike Keneally and Beer For Dolphins - Dancing (2000)
Mike Keneally - Wooden Smoke (2002)
The Mike Keneally Band - Dog (2004)
The Mike Keneally Band - Guitar Therapy Live (2006)

(Plus Appearances with other artists include Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Nick D'Virgilio and many more)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: November 1st 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 690
Language: english


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