The Monstrous Balls of Cranial Perch
If you've heard the new Cranial Perch CD Fringe Benefits, you might suspect that you're dealing with a weird bunch. You just might be right. Our man in the know, Mister Max Owre, attempts to explain the unexplainable, Burlington's art-rock intellectuals Cranial Perch.
What are balls? They can be bouncy sports objects, or they can be testicles. Music-ally, they can be the impressive skills of a "tight" jam. I think the best balls are the symbolic ones that come from truly uncompromised people throwing all caution to the wind-showing the world the beauty of musical creativity with all of its warts and pimples. The sheer daring and in your face nature of one Burlington band in particular, Cranial Perch, dangle as an example of this, my favorite balls.
Cranial Perch is an enigma. My visual image of them contrasts strongly with the aural one inspired by their music. I can see Jamie Williamson up there on stage, looking smart, and Peter Danforth with his saxophone, looking tall. Peter is very tall. Anne-Marie Costa as the vampire queen beseeching the underworld to rise. The picture is quite surreal. Add the incomparable troubadour Dave Jarvis and wild-man drummer Jamie Schefer (Hey, didn't I see you with Spray Nine?), and the mix becomes, quite frankly, baffling.
Cranial Perch's recently released debut compact disc Fringe Benefits is a most hip aural landscape. This album oscillates nicely between melodic pop that is radio ready and the scary side of musical cerebralism, which by its very nature is liked only because it freaks us out so much. This album has many twists and turns and a discerning listener will enjoy the ride while occasionally jumping out of the way of the huge flaming oil tanker flying across the medium. Jump! Whoa, close one.
Back to the band. One might hear the saxophone and imagine that this is some kind of jazz act. The singing at times backs up the assessment, but trust me, this misconception will disappear after the manic energy of a nerd-pop song like "Marginal Man" smashes down and makes your skull a hoof. A hoof! Their brain splitting jams are somewhat reminiscent of the crazy vibe of Sun Ra, or perhaps Buckethead, slowed down a little, playing the Carpenters backwards.
Imagine the hippy Peter, Paul and Mary your Catholic Mom would play as a poor attempt to be "cool." Was that your mom? Okay. Try again. Imagine new folk music turned in upon itself with a healthy dose of LSD and Sonic Youth. Throw in some of the B-52's campiness and early Genesis' art rock anthems, and mix in all of Jamie's references that were above my head (Gong, It's A Beautiful Day) and you have Cranial Perch.
Williamson says "Cranial Perch started at the same time my daughter was born. One day she was in the room singing 'He's a Marginal Man, a military dude.'" According to Williamson, Cranial Perch has the most children of any band in town, with band members Anne-Marie Costa, Williamson, and new father Dave Jarvis all boasting of progeny. I however disagree-I know some local bands composed entirely of children! Regardless, it is encouraging to know that there is a second generation of freaks out there.
As for the name, "Cranial Perch," it is apparently what you will get if you jump into a swimming pool without water. Although, from the sound of their song "Swimming Pool," where this theme is repeated, that can be a peaceful and almost pretty thing. I was laughing at myself for buying into the musical sentimentality of this piece, while Anne-Marie and Jamie tell a macabre story of lonely death in a swimming pool. It is silly, scary, and weird! Another example of the 'Perch paradox'.
What are we to do with Cranial Perch. Do we attempt to classify them? How can they be sexy? The one thing that stands out most about this band is a real lack of pretension. Honesty is a virtue, and they are the hermaphroditic Abraham Lincoln. They are so damn intellectual that you forget that they are joking at times. Then again, they are so silly that you forget they are making serious comments on society, art, and life and death in general.
A good example can be found in Williamson's "Bridge to Nowhere," and the reference to fifties TV and our society is both eerie and funny. "The bridge to the past sucks a void in my mind, painting pretty pictures round faced shit-eating grin, The Beaver's got it hard-June's award (sic) is a sin. We cleave to makeshift hopes, con rhetoric swells, We wallow in the ooze-Dick loves Jane's smell." Such sentiments are always tempered by the perturbations (and sometimes masturbations) of Perch music that leave us guessing as to the true sentiment.
When I asked Jamie Williamson how they came up with this crazy stuff, he said "The stuff I write and bring in, I don't tell other people what their parts are. Pete makes up his saxophone parts, Jamie his drum parts, and so on."
What about these people. First is Williamson. He is well spoken and a take-no-shit intellectual. I mean this guy actually teaches at a major university (UVM! We are not worthy). He is like the Steven Seagal of the Science Fiction/Fantasy community. Whether he likes it or not I would have to label him 'the leader' of the band. This way he can take issue with my article, and only one of them has to fight me. He has a knack for writing songs that move us (it could be to tears or to fears, but not to Tears for Fears) and teach at the same time. His guitar style is intimately aggressive and, along with Peter's horn, provides the atonality and drive which make the 'Cranial Perch sound.'
I've known Anne-Marie Costa since she was in the eighth grade. She sang at a talent show with two of my best friends and even then she stole the show. Her voice sometimes reminds me of Grace Slick and other times is more like a howling banshee ripping the flesh from a baby goat. Yes, a baby goat. She is a remarkable wordsmith, creating landscapes that are dotted with powerful mythic images, as in "Artemis," or playful sexiness as in the pseudo-rap of "Doctor With a Medal". She compliments the band with her vocal delivery of epithets like "666-fuck you!" Anne-Marie has those balls I was talking about.
I have always had a great respect for Dave Jarvis. He has done a lot for this music community and any project he is involved with will benefit from his experience and professionalism. In Cranial Perch I would classify him as the 'Rock-n-Roll' guy. The first strains of his song "Lois" lilt out of the stereo and suddenly it is 1968 and I'm in Gary, Indiana watching Jim Morrison and Grace Slick jam with Iggy Pop and Robert Fripp. A great deal of the variety that I so love about this band is being generated by Jarvis' distinctively different song writing style and delivery. This band has the luxury of having three strong voices to lean on and it is refreshing to hear them use the smooth Jarvis to his full effect.
Really though, Peter Danforth is THE MAN! Screw this whole front man crap. Peter is out there on every song putting that sax stamp on the music which says "I'm here, and I won't be predictable". This is true musicianship. I know that Peter plays every note on the fly and from his
heart (except for all those obviously crafted melodies), and from this we see a great heart-at times begging the listener to cuddle up with a warm jazzy lover, and then screaming at you like Rodan (not the sculptor Rodin, although that works also) to wake you up and remind you, "I am not predictable!". No Peter, No Perch, Period.
Last, but certainly not least, let's talk about the drummer. Visually, Jamie Schefer is one of the most entertaining drummers around, and aurally he nicely manages to clomp like a rocker when he needs to and then play softly and subtly when he needs to. Working with the other instruments in this band must be challenging and Jamie and Jarvis together provide a solid foundation for the other musician's quirkiness. Nicely done.
Look, you might not be ready for Cranial Perch, but they are so much hipper than you are. I for one would much rather be disturbed by music than bored by music. Peter Danforth called Cranial Perch "the Bearded Lady of the Burlington Music Scene." He is right on there. But, pull off that beard and take off the clothes, and you will see a delectable she-beast with seven swollen vaginas and a lot to say. When they score their first #1 single, I will look back at this and say, "I told you so, all you need is acid and an open mind." ~GC~
Max Owre is a guitarist and Napoleanic scholar. What else can you say?