Another in a series of posts about recent online music releases by Lehigh Valley bands.
When I started writing From the Valley posts, I expected to hear a fair amount of punk, metal, and lo-fi singer-songwriter weirdness. And so far, I have.
I never expected to hear a band that would make me think of Steely Dan.
But the Peter Johann Band’s album The Wampus, released on Bandcamp about two weeks ago, holds up to that comparison on at least a couple of fronts.
Bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Peter Johann Gutzmirtl says he’s been recording bands in a studio setting for 15 years.
The Wampus hugely benefits from that experience: It has a clarity and depth of sound you won’t hear in the average self-produced indie release. This is a professional-quality recording, and a departure from the let-it-rip basement business you sometimes get on homemade albums.
“Disco A Go-Go,” for instance, begins with a vintage Fender Rhodes electric piano sound you can practically sink your teeth into.
“Disco A Go-Go,” with its tumbling horn lines and cool female vocal, is a dead ringer for the glory days of the Brand New Heavies — another bunch of polished virtuoso players. In a perfect world, this infectious funk jam would be the hit single that makes the PJB some bucks and lands them on magazine covers, while the deeper stuff on the album hooks in the serious music fans.
The members of the PJB (there’s six of them on the band’s website, but only five on Bandcamp) have the chops to go with their professional sound. Horn arrangements, soaring guitar leads, funky percussion, five-string bass low end … these folks are tight and well-drilled.
Of course, professional sheen and frequent rehearsal aren’t enough; you need songs, too.
The PJB holds up its end of the bargain pretty well in that department. Its songs are catchy and well-constructed, suggesting that the group has spent as much time studying song structure as chords and rhythms.
I’d describe the general style as intelligent pop, with periodic touches of jazz, Latin and funk. And while I keep going back to “Disco A Go-Go” for another fix, that doesn’t mean the rest of the songs are weak; it just means I’m a hopeless disco-funk addict.
Are there weaknesses here? Well, you won’t hear any cries from the heart or passionate punk howls. If you like your music stripped-down and bloody raw, The Wampus probably isn’t going to be your bag.
Also, Peter Johann is an OK-to-pretty-good singer; his voice works well enough, but someone with a more distinctive presence might take some of the songs a little further over the top.
Those are pretty small bones to pick in the long run, though. The Wampus is a fresh and enjoyable piece of work.
There’s a place in the world for both lo-fi rage and professional polish. The former is fairly easy to come by; I’m glad to discover that the PJB is championing the latter.
The Wampus is available here as a Bandcamp download (minimum price $5).