Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy Dec. 5, 2008
Alright, let’s get it right out of the way, then. Yes, the band’s name is Pee-Pee and, no, the moniker does not seem to have any reflection on the music contained herein. (To a third, perhaps-unspoken question: I don’t know if we’re supposed to search between the lines for deeper truths about urine or one’s genitalia, depending on your read on the slang.)
Castile Jackine … Vol. 1, this Denver ensemble’s debut, begins strongly enough. The opening track, the pseudo-ballad “Jaroline,” boasts catchy acoustics and the ideal balance between orchestral strings, horn blasts and poppy verses. The beautiful and infectious “Love Needs A Quivering, Restless, Aching Fire to Lay Its Head On,” with its digitally manipulated acoustic bounce, sounds effortlessly hip, the kind of track you hear on an iPod commercial and wonder, “And who is that?” And the bittersweet “I Hope My New House Feels Welcoming For You” bleeds its sincerity, with songwriter/bandleader Doo Crowder whispering over carefully plucked acoustic verses.
Elsewhere, though, the record runs itself off the rails. The 10-minute-long “Freakout Jam” is more waiting and awkward starts and stops than it is the illuminating psych-rock exercise these guys might believe. “Pee-Pee Song” is, as you pretty much might expect, needlessly goofy; over blues scales and a kind of chugging percussive drive, the group spews lines like “This is what Pee-Pee is about” or, perhaps more illustrative, “Singing a song for Pee-Pee/ Singing a song for life/ Singing a song for Pee-Pee/ Singing the ‘Pee-Pee Song’ ‘til you die.” On the funky “I Love U 2 Much,” the group cranks up the Stax factor with a soulful female lead and some choppy guitars, but the track is bizarrely out of place. (It might light up a crowd live but I don’t think it quite works here.)
And this says nothing of tracks like “Madness Song (Remix),” less a remix than an excuse to cut up a straight-forward folk-rock song with an inexplicable series of different sounds and contexts. Here, kitchen sink be damned, you get well-recorded acoustics, lo-fi cassette murmurings, an acid-dripped verse, robot-voiced trance, swirling horns and pensive sitar, all independent of each other. (That’s half the song but you get the idea.) This doesn’t sound like a band condemning genre limitations or, to borrow an overused phrase, being experimental. This might be weird for weird’s sake. This is the sound of wandering.
Sometimes, the meandering approach works. Tracks like “Love Needs A Quivering, Restless, Aching Fire to Lay Its Head On” – I’m feeling a single – don’t work because they stick to the script. They work because they’re ambitious and well-initiated, catchy enough to cling to your memory but quirky enough to separate them from the rest of the pack. But tracks like “Madness Song (Remix)” just don’t fly.
Sadly, the record ends not with a brighter moment but with a somewhat duller one, the sky-is-the-limit mix-up of “O, Little Boy.” The track, like the record, flashes promise early on: the lazy sway of funky guitars, poppy progressions, vocals that suggest something grandiose is lurking around a corner. But, halfway through, the song shifts into a 60’s-inspired blues-rock romp complete with shouts of “I need you/ I need you more,” soulful backing vocals, the whole package but more a formula than an invention. About five minutes in, someone does the unthinkable. They co-opt the nah-nah-na-na-nah-nah melody of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and they don’t stop, instead repeating the familiar refrain over a bluesy descent. (Others also are quoted.) It’s an interesting choice but a flawed one. Maybe some critics are too protective of the Lennon and McCartney songbook, but there’s reason to suggest you need to have an excuse before cribbing from the holy canon. Pee-Pee, it seems, does not.