My boyfriend sits across from me in this dusty cafe as I start to play this track called “Shy” probably far too loudly. Scanning the reverbnation page, he asks, “Who are the Vonneguts?”
I turn down the volume slightly and respond, “The Vonneguts are… something else entirely.”
Given that at this point I had only heard a few of The Vonneguts’ songs and had been drawn to them only a day earlier because they are named after my favorite author (a book-by-cover mistake, I know), I may have been desirous of a new evaluation of the group since then. But alas, after devoting much more time to these guys, I have only confirmed my original statement about the band. See, the vast world of musical mush that floats into our brains daily is something, and The Vonneguts are something else entirely. Miles Hubbell, Phill Dage, Joe Myers, Mike O’Brien, and Jake Kmiecik recently released their self-titled record on March 30th, 2013. It contains an A Side with their hit, “Automobile,” and a B Side which contains two tracks, “Three Birds,” and “Shy.”
“Automobile” is an incredible first track, because it introduces the full spectrum of The Vonneguts’ musical identity. It takes off with a robust rhythm, revealing a well-versed and technical foundation. Within seconds, the guitars make a powerful entrance with one of their notable 60’s riffs that paints your walls paisley without asking. The drums and bass are a little slower and sort of spread the sound from wall-to-wall in an early Pink Floyd way. Seconds later, the band picks it up as vocalist, Miles Hubbell starts carrying everyone (and perhaps himself) away on a rapid current. Here he repeatedly suggests that he could be both his counterpart’s “wheel” and her “automobile.” He chants the words with increasing intensity, until suddenly, he reaches his breaking point. The guitars, bass, and drums approach the height of their crescendos and erupt into structured chaos, as Miles wails at her to “show [him] more!” The Vonneguts truly achieve what Alexander Pope declares all poets must: “the sound must seem an echo to the sense.” In other words, what’s happening in the song or poem audibly mirrors what is happening in its narration or meaning. Furthermore, the band must receive additional recognition for then making a bridge that is not lame at all (as most bridges are, let’s be real), but actually groovy as all get-out. By the end of the song the listener is both bouncing around the room and reaching his hands up to the ceiling in profound Hamlet-esque soliloquy. All of that is to say: these guys know what they’re doing. And that’s only the first side of the record.
The next track, “Shy,” is a cover of a song originally written by The Smashed Windows, Phill Dage’s previous band. The song comes off as a very simple jam, but has an abundance of both energy and emotion (which is the best possible combination of ‘e’ adjectives for a song to have). It has a universal groove that adds hints of personality in its little riffs and quirky lyrics. I love this track because you can play it at parties and also when you’re in the shower, while with some songs, I feel uncomfortable doing one if I have done the other.
Next we have “Three Birds.” And let me tell you, I know everything there is to know about these three delicate animals because I haven’t been able to stop listening to their theme song for the past 5 hours. The setting is (as far as my ears can tell), a serene beach in the background of that episode of “Happy Days” in which the Fonz jumps a shark. The eternally unique vocals come in and describe these three birds, who at one point flew by our narrator. Said boy now wonders why he spent his time singing lullabies instead of pondering about the eccentricities of these whimsical creatures whose presence is now long gone. In the following verse, the same thing happens with three girls. These ladies don’t even notice the narrator as they pass him, so he feels something akin to “The Girl From Ipanema”-style sorrow for a while. Later, our protagonist reveals that he has been “traveling long and winding roads,” and thus “can’t trust [his] eyes.” He states these facts in a chorus that welcomes the listener to the narrator’s woefully resulting consciousness: “the only place there is left to hide.” The song therefore seems to exude this deep regret for having missed a chance to really see things the way they are. That regret, however, only lasts but a second, because the music quickly shapes it into a comical perspective on life. The speaker learns to see life more simply, and encourages us to do the same. The tune reaches the point of peak cheerfulness when singer Miles actually audibly chuckles a bit at the three girls who stroll by him. He notices a missed opportunity and instead of burrowing into his own regret, shakes it off immediately and then claims that he “know[s] better.”
The bearable lightness of The Vonneguts here also stems from their blissful brit rock vibe which this track manifests so well. Indeed, in this and some of their other tracks (most notably “David Bowie”), they remind me a bit of the Libertines, in that their instrumentalism creates a finely tuned progression of thought from heavy as bricks to lighter than air. The Vonneguts confirm that ultimately, these negative feelings will eventually fly by with the three birds anyway.
In these three tracks alone, The Vonneguts prove themselves unpredictable, confident, and above all, talented enough to be effortlessly concise. The Vonneguts’ vocals seem both masterfully articulate and loosely inarticulate at the most appropriate times, and their instrumentals are both foundational and completely individual simultaneously. They apply more of these original techniques in their incredible demos, “No Tengo Qualms,” “Speedin’ Up,” and “David Bowie,” as well (while “Three Birds” is my favorite, “David Bowie” is definitely a very close second).
The Vonneguts play the kinds of songs one can dance raucously to for hours at a house party and then play later as he falls into an old corduroy lazy boy and exhales his last cigarette of the night.
This record reveals the most important aspect of Vonnegut-ism, which I feel their namesake himself exudes consistently: purposeful chaos. And that purposeful chaos is what makes The Vonnegut’s something else entirely.
Pick up this record at their upcoming show at the New Dodge Lounge on Saturday, October 12th for Fallout Fest 2013. The record will also soon be available via mail, so check out their facebook for updates on that!
You can also find two of the tracks from the record and hear the aforementioned killer demos on their reverbnation page.