Grampall Jookabox's Brilliant ‘Ropechain' Defies Classification

5 of 5

Grampall Jookabox's second LP, "Ropechain" is nuts, and I love it. Is it rap? Rock? Soul? Pop? It borrows from all those genres and more, and in an age where we love to label genres so specifically that they seem to lose their specificity, Grampall Jookabox is perfectly unclassifiable. It's just really good, weird and intriguing music. It's definitely a left-field hodgepodge, as Grampall plays an assortment of electric and acoustic guitars, keys, percussion, and other instruments and gadgets. These aren't hip-hop beats, though they've got great rhythm. It's not rock, though heavy guitars often take the lead. It's neither Americana nor jazz, but both those genres are reference points. What it is is weird and cool and infectious and haunting. Mainly, it's the most unique thing I've listened to in a long while, which is what I crave. Mastermind David Adamson sounds like some sort of urban hillbilly. In six months, I may very well think "Ropechain" is stupid and wonder why I liked it in the first place, but for now, I want to listen to it again and again and again. Adamson is either a certified genius or a certifiable head case. Maybe equal parts both.

The highlights here are "The Girl Ain't Preggers" and "I Will Save Young Michael." The former, driven by simple but incessant percussion that sounds like it was provided by a member of Stomp or Blue Man Group, takes an idea common to film and TV and puts it in song: fear of possibly having fathered a child giving way to lament when finding out you're not going to be a father after all. The first half of the song lists the reasons you're not ready to have a child -- mainly financial -- and the chorus sings "Don't it make you feel glad when the girl ain't preggers." The second half highlights the joy of fatherhood and beauty of children and changes tune to "Don't it make you feel sad when the girl ain't preggers." A seemingly simple twist of phrase proves insightful and powerful. The latter is Grampall Jookabox's lament on the life of Michael Jackson, reminiscing about a youthful Michael's talent and potential, then trying to travel back in time to plead with the King of Pop to stay the course. Mellow, rhythmic strumming guides the song, and layered background vocals howl like ghosts. Both tracks demonstrate the rare wit with which Grampall Jookabox is blessed.

But the underlying theme of the album is madness -- a descent prompted by the state of the world and society. The record opens with "Black Girls," on which a tribute to black women is spoke-sung over ominous bass and a hip-hop beat slowed down and gone industrial. The next track, "Let's Go Mad Together," lays down "Ropechain's" theme blatantly and invites the listener to join in the despair. Again dominated by bass, this song is even creepier and more haunting than the first, with horn bleats and moments of heavy guitar mixed in above sparse, almost tribal percussion. Spitting gibberish in the chorus, Grampall Jookabox drives home the song's message of madness. The album is at it's maddest, though, on "You Will Love My Boom." It's got some of the heaviest rock elements on the album, though it plods along impressively. The vocals are at their most crazed -- deep, gritty and soulful, though disturbed. The singer sounds like a stalker as he violently croons, "You know I love you love you. I took my shrooms and then proposed to you because I love you love you."

The vocals often are delivered in a rhythmic speech, and when that coincides with the R&B and soul rising to the top of the arrangement, it could be hip-hop, but that ain't flow. When the vocals are sung, there's a host of vocal styles to choose from, ranging from slick and soulful to high and tense to gritty and angry. Kind of reminds me of Cee-Lo Green in the ability to inhabit several styles, though staying at least a little bit crazy all the while, even if the vocal instrument isn't as classical as Green's. And throughout the album, no matter what genre Grampall Jookabox seems to be leaning toward most, a psychedelic assembly of sample instruments and noise defines the sound. It's like Americana for the new millennium, updated to include the past three decades.

Late on the record, "The One Thing" proves to be another almost rock song, the most up-tempo track. It's short, though, and followed by another short song, but one that takes a completely different direction. A cool, steady, psychedelic sound writes the despair in "We Know We Might Be F---ed," another excellent example of Grampall Jookabox's understated humor. The album wraps with what seems to be a concession to its theme, "I'm Absolutely Freaked Out." It starts with a howl, and while the album mostly is dominated by bottom and quirky beats, "Freaked Out" returns to soulful, subtle, mellow strumming. It frequently changes pace and tone, incorporating most of the bonkers elements that run through the record, though largely remains chill and is not nearly as nightmarish.

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