Such strange eloquence is this. While most concept albums, particularly in the rock field, are a dicey bet, at best, there are stirring exceptions like this pop culture obsessed bit o' honey. Mike Keneally - a octopus-fingered guitar wizard who's served ably with Frank Zappa, Dethklok and many others - took years to sculpt the first chapter in a proposed trilogy, and all the care and thinking works in his favor on Scambot 1 (released ), a wicked broad canvas that expertly melds classical pop, atmospheric drift, metallic clang, California country and sophisticated jazz-rock, stirring new colors with unexpected juxtapositions and faultless, viscerally satisfying musicianship.
Following the adventures of one Scambot (acronym for Serial Consciousness Agent [military division] Bringer of Truth), we're introduced to Kootch and the Quiet Children, Ophunji the overseer, and more in this seemingly loose-limbed yet intricately carved exploration of fame and fate and frivolity. Attempting to encapsulate Scambot 1 or guess at where the next two chapters will roam is futility itself. Part of Scambot 1's success is how well the music works without the whole overarching concept. My first two listens I hadn't even loosed the thick, cleverly written and illustrated libretto CD booklet. Once I added that mind-blowing range of images and nudges in the whole work really glowed in a fucking powerful way.
It would be enough that Keneally and his collaborators play with incredible skill and instinct, or that the vocals skip seamlessly from barbershop to alien growl to Beach Boys sweet, or even that a rainbow of just cool sounds is unleashed here, but there is a great deal of depth and peculiar (and even occasionally profound) insight. If nothing else, Scambot 1 is a demonstration that Keneally is a guitarist great in just about any vernacular, capable of soul stroking delicacy, absorbing cacophony, and conservatory complexity. His style is less Zappa than one might imagine, with Keneally having a greater fondness for melody and prettiness than Frank. Where he overlaps most with his former bandleader is in his no-hold-barred humor and wild ass vision, both of which shine through in the text and lyrics, which also nicely evoke the prose of Michael Nesmith and the dark silkiness of Steely Dan (who also faintly echo musically in spots).
There are so many levels on which to enjoy Scambot 1, and so many reasons to be excited for parts two and three. When you open the CD case, a note on the interior booklet says, Dedicated to anyone who still listens to entire albums with their headphones on." As busy as our days are, it's worth investing the focus and energy this note suggests with a work as pleasurably substantive as Scambot 1.
Scambot 1 also has a double disc special edition with a second 53-minute disc called Songs & Stories Inspired by Scambot 1, which this author needs to get a hold of asap, and you can too over here.