Take a blind man and let him into a band closet. Have him randomly pick instruments, give those to a few charming Brooklyn boys with silky hairdos and 5’ o clock shadows, and send the ensemble off to chilly Alaska. While the origin tale of Red Eye Loveboat may seem like a hoax, their music certainly is not. The band has been hailed by Pitchfork as “an unlikely congregation of musicians with talent far beyond their years, a group that resonates with the aspirations of the working class with arrangements that captivate and marvel.”
The group’s only release, a 3-track EP titled “The Moon May Love You, But I Don’t (Soliloquies For Deaf-Mutes),” has earned them the recognition of critics worldwide, and their recent show at SXSW further cemented the fact that ensemble is here to stay.
The opening track, “The Baby In The Well,” captures the fleeting loneliness of the Alaskan wilderness that served as their main inspiration. The song begins with a traditional Yupik chant by main vocalist Joseph Dernat. The rhythmic background is established by Will Short, whose cajon playing on the track is nothing short of impeccable. While banjo twanging by Dernat establishes an initial melody, the real highlight of the track is Benedict Shifrin’s post-modern tromboon solo. His playing is reminiscent of saxophone jazzer Steve Lehman and is an unrelenting display of musical aggressiveness.
The last song on the EP, “Gentle Strokes,” continues with their theme of isolation, but also demonstrates the band’s willingness to explore unconventional musical ideas. Taking a cue from the Minimalist movement, the track is comprised mainly of a swung 7/8 electric triangle part. Dernat fills the void out with an occasional howl, at other times using a musical saw, reminiscent of deep human breathing, to explore unconventional timbres. Finally, Short showcases his brass talent with a sousaphone, remaining in the background with a sparse bass line that tenderly tugs the track along.
“3:42” is the anomalous song. A testament to the band’s worldliness, the track seems like a traditional New Orleans funeral tune. Short’s pounding sousaphone work provides the backbone for a march while Shifrin builds a lamentful melody on the tromboon. The percussion, however, is a doozy– his bongo and marimba playing is much more Latin than Creole, but it ties together, giving the track its unusual liveliness. Furthermore, the occasional tooting of a slide whistle serves to accentuate an unusual polyrhythm at calmer parts of the song.
It is rare that a band like Red Eye Loveboat comes around– one brimming with so much raw talent and electric energy, yet still effective in delivering its artistic message without impeding its own talent. With a first release that sings the sorrowful songs of its generation, we can rest assured that the group will continue to eclipse their previous efforts, but the real question is: where to next?