Barney Fife

Jeff Johnson’s Teenage Boatpeople do not appear to have succeeded in enjoying the trend of “alternative” rock units that are first systematically neglected, then praised as revelators of the will of some god, owing to the intervention of friends who matter in the establishment’s “specialist” press.

Worse yet, while Her Grace serves as an excellent performance example, it is also a testament to Milo Fine’s seemingly irrevocable resolution to quit the project after many years of effective team work, due to assurances that were not met concerning certain attributes of the final mix, which, as Fine acknowledges in a post on his website, wouldn’t be discernible to anyone but him.

This is particularly disappointing because the eight episodes on this LP, printed on lovely blue vinyl, are not impacted by the unevenness infecting most remote recordings assembled as a consequence of the pandemic during the last biennium. Johnson and Fine’s faraway interplay is permeated by a signature blend of surreal exuberance, semi-lucid inebriation and instrumental adventurousness. Violinist and producer Ronan Brooks’ cameos in the closing track of each side provide a slight hint of quasi-romanticizing flavor.

This reviewer’s viewpoints encompass a wide range of completely unintended fusions, from disembodied lounge jazz to lysergic songwriting (make that “song dismantling”), plus materials that can’t possibly be depicted if not by an instinctive response as one’s listening. Sometimes, the whole resounds in a wonderfully evocative way. I can exactly place Fine’s improvised wisdom particles on percussion, piano and Bb clarinet next to Johnson’s unruly guitar jangle and unique vocalizations, the latter smelling like a muriatic acid-based smoothie of Beatles and Scott Walker, arranged by a Van Dyke Parks/Harry Partch human hybrid.

It’s going to be tough for this record to alter public perception and establish Teenage Boatpeople as a household name. Still, irrespective of genre, this is one of the best releases of the year for yours truly. Music with a quirky personality, played by intelligent musicians not lacking in sense of humor, and who weren’t even in the same room. A precious resource in these dark days for the arts.

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