Electric Six, Zodiac

Published on September 28th, 2010 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore

e6 zodiac

Since it continues the mythology of the band—self-perpetuation through self-aggrandizing self-deprecation—there’s likely no more appropriate title for the new Electric Six album than Zodiac.

Zodiac is more ambitious than any E6 release since I Shall Exterminate. . ., more structured than Flashy yet more ridiculous than Kill.

It’s gleefully deranged, beginning with the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am of “After Hours,” its New Wave juke joint groove bolstered by the band’s typically clever, irreverent lyrics.

Zodiac‘s missteps are slight, and mostly due to a couple of slower (but still high quality) songs (“Doom and Gloom and Doom and Gloom,” “Table and Chairs”) that seem misplaced on the album and would have likely worked better placed between different songs, or even as B-sides.

Structurally, many of the tunes on Zodiac explore the same trend Kill ushered in: switching gears halfway through in a kind of “two songs for the price of one” strategy. The reappearance of that dirty, late ’70s saxophone sound from I Shall Exterminate. . . is most welcome and used to miraculous effect on “American Cheese.”

“Countdown To The Countdown” shoves you into an absolutely relentless groove with a surprisingly sinister ending, while “Clusterfuck” begs for a dance remix courtesy of The Lonely Island. Since I’m one of those old fogies who thinks dance clubs should play mostly soul and disco and not. . . well, the crap they play now, E6 is basically my ideal modern dance music.

Just to prove my point, I’m going to declare that “Jam It In The Hole” should be on any Electric Six fan’s Top Ten list: it’s outrageously danceable, yet dripping with the emotion of all the best old school dance hits, courtesy of its superlative sonic and lyrical qualities (“what’s the market value of a soul/kids keep jamming in this rock ‘n’ roll black hole”). Like much of the rest of Zodiac, it’s also got a liberal dose of fetching female background vocals that provide a perfect counterpoint to Dick Valentine’s psychopathic croon.

In fact, its Valentine’s willingness to make a fool of himself—either through ridiculous sarcasm or sincerity—that makes him so continuously endearing and entertaining.

By turns, he becomes the music (“I Am A Song”); derides his music (“It Ain’t Punk Rock”); and then reinvents himself as a god, paying tribute to himself in music (“Song For Myself”). When Kanye West exalts himself to the heights of self-flagellation, it’s irritating; when Valentine does it, it’s charming. Such claims would be meaningless if the band’s musical chops didn’t back them up, however.

This begs the question: does credibility elude E6 because they aren’t from New York or Los Angeles? Or because they’re so deliriously hilarious no one takes their (sincerely) good music seriously?

In my world, humor will always trump. . . just about anything, particularly in music where film genres like rom com, horror, or sci-fi don’t translate so well. Even if you don’t think Electric Six are one of best bands of the last decade, they’re still funnier than just about anyone else, except maybe Sparks. Who else would create what is perhaps the first Thanksgiving-themed pop song via the filthy, funny, and unbelievably catchy “Talkin’ Turkey”?

While I hate to refer to them with the seemingly-ubiquitous modern critical descriptor of ‘literate pop band,” a term both meaningless and insulting, they are incredibly musically knowledgeable. Zodiac boasts nods to Paul McCartney & Wings, Pink Floyd, Gerry Rafferty, Led Zeppelin, and even Oprah (but not her book club).

With such an impressive array of musical and lyrical references, one may feel compelled to call Electric Six postmodern, but they aren’t so much killing pop culture history as they are its biggest frenemies. Even when they cover a song, in Zodiac‘s case, their amazing tribute to The Spinners’ “Rubberband Man,” they still sound like Electric Six, with Valentine pushing his falsetto into shrieking Robert Plant territory.

Yet rather than being satisfied with becoming nothing more than a bunch of derivative hacks, Electric Six have managed to create a sort of godlike Frankenstein that all good music lovers should worship. Zodiac is the latest essential chapter in this disturbed, yet delightful saga.

Zodiac comes out today from Metropolis Records. For more on Electric Six, please read any of Popshifter‘s numerous articles on the band or check out their website. They are currently touring North America on the “Rent is Too Damn High!” tour; their next two shows are tonight at the Black Cat in Washington, DC and September 30 at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC.

5 Responses to “Electric Six, Zodiac

  1. Oliver:
    September 28th, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Fantastically balanced and well-informed review… which is a refreshing contrast to the Pitchfork crowd’s unrelenting musical snobbery. Electric Six may be one of the hardest-working bands in music today.

  2. Popshifter:
    September 28th, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks, Oliver. I agree totally!


  3. Jizzymarlboro:
    October 11th, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Brilliant review and great new CD from the much underrated Electric Six!

  4. Popshifter:
    October 11th, 2010 at 11:58 am



  5. Popshifter » Electric Six, Heartbeats And Brainwaves:
    October 11th, 2011 at 10:02 am

    […] expect from Electric Six, yet it’s exactly what we should have expected. Whereas Zodiac was gleefully deranged, Heartbeats and Brainwaves sits somewhere between seductive and downright weird (yes, weird even […]

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