The Band: Van Gogh's Ear
The Album: Ono
The Players: G.S. Han, Bob Ryu, Frank Randall, Mike Joo, David Downey, Mike Wisti, Chris Erikson, Jim Johnson, Steve Kaback, Brian Moore.
Introduction - You've gotta start somewhere. So we begin with three chords and a basement fantasy.
Maybe Fuzzy - Find solace here, amongst us, the creatively challenged. A heartfelt plea to a recalcitrant muse, “Maybe Fuzzy” conjures up oblique references to Robert Capa, J.D. Salinger, and Up with People. Perhaps inspiration, unlike constipation, is overrated. Much like a well-formed bowel movement, songs arrive in due time and are ultimately satisfying.
Way South - Surf’s out! Catch this tsunami of sound, and enjoy a European tour courtesy of VGE. Dedicated to those of you who have strolled the avenues of Cadiz and Tarifa.
Lives of Kings - Written on location, this homage to the most royal residents of NYC’s Normandy Court is based on a true story. Kids, don’t be throwing sacks of garbage out of high-rise windows just because it sounds so cool in this song. Someone will have to answer that awful knock at the door.
I Think It's Time - Penned during a frigid winter weekend in the Twin Cities, this musical diary recounts some adventures, which include exploring the Walker Art Center, inside and out.
CHUD Part 1 - This grinding, four-minute, two-part exploration of thematic issues inherent to Chudness is highlighted by the scorched fret fireworks of Chris Erikson of the Sacred Cows.
King of Paradise - The gently eloquent strains of Jim Johnson’s pedal steel guitar take us back thirty years, to the heyday of Don Ho, the once and future King of Paradise and impresario of all things Hawaiian. These were the days of mai-tais made with kool-aid and white wine, ugly floral bowling shirts, and the drunken friends of your parents trying to limbo in the backyard before puking in your sandbox.
Where's My Tahiti? - Pessimism and hedonism join forces in this search for paradise. As the future has been soiled by actions of the past, the only thing that matters is the present. What good is a 401(k) if the “k” stands for “kabloom!” and
you’re no longer there to enjoy it? The bomb shelter mentality of the 1950’s
makes no sense at all. Think about it. Where is your Tahiti?
State Fair - Van Gogh’s Ear raises its bottomless glass of milk to Minnesota with this toe-tapper, a robust musical tribute to that confounding perennial swarm of humanity. See you at the fair!
Cool Friends - Featured here are the curious bass meandering of the original Salad Boy and plenty of trademark VGE vocalizing. Our television sit-com is armed and ready with an opening theme. Tell John Sebastian he can pitch his lame jingles elsewhere. We might have to seriously reconsider should boyce-hart come knocking.
Halley's Comet - This tune recounts the passing by of a heavenly body that inexplicably dominated all forms of mass media during the spring of 1986. One can always depend on the media to tell us what is important.
Rockabilly Christmas - The early Van Gogh’s Ear fancied itself as a rockabilly band, but soon grew weary of playing cover tunes. Our “we can write a song like that” mentality led to this little ditty, which was updated for this album with surprising pre-millennium fervor.
VGE Anthem - We’ve always wanted to write an autobiographical song as unabashedly sincere as the Minutemen’s “History Lesson - Part II”, and let’s face it, we still do. Here, we plastered some words to a few late night riffs, added a bridge, and ended up with this figment of amalgamation. Less anthem and more spotty exanthem, it will have to do for now.
SFC - When “darn cute” just won’t do, SFC fills the expressive void to characterize that special someone who requires expletives for adequate description. Foul language is just plain foul. But sometimes it’s the only way to express what you really mean.
Paradise Slide - Drain that coconut cocktail, call a cab, and take one more spin around the tiki lounge. Aloha, from Van Gogh's Ear.
Van Gogh’s Ear has birthed a sound with the explosiveness of an amniotic sac. This is music that can deflower a virgin, change a holy man’s faith, start my car without a key. With puckish juvenility, the band achieves where others fail, doing so with a flair and whimsy that mocks the Dylans and Jaggers and Townsends and Bonos (Sonny) in the never ending miasma of crotch-stuffing bogies trying to provide the music world with a tasteful, appealing, and indigestion-inducing sound. Once and for all, I state with confidence that all comparisons are essentially technicolored flatulence.
What is with today’s music? To scan the stations is to feel like a pubescent girl lying in a pink bedroom fondling a Barbie clock radio and pleasuring herself with abundantly fecal Top 40 dung. Van Gogh’s Ear’s music is a refreshing breath among halitosis-scented pop putrescence. The Stray Cats, Squeeze, Neil Young, the Beatles, Roy Orbison, the Animals, the Ramones, and Buddy Holly all accent the melange of back up harmonies, driving basses, heavy metal distortions, country slide, rockabilly twang, and Hawaiian punch. To hear Van Gogh’s Ear pitted against toady screams of estrogen-soaked pop divas of the nineties is to feel the relief of a good boil lanced.
From a formal music perspective, some say that the codas are fecund and the bridges are sound like the Tacoma Narrows. Here, staccato really means staccato and retardando has more to do with “retard” than with “ando”. As an economist, the music is strictly Keynesian. As an evolutionary biologist, the music is all Lamarck. As fish, the music is less rainbow trout and more black crappie.
Many a frolicking hipster has contributed to the blood-engorged sound known as Van Gogh’s Ear. The core members, G.S., Bob, and Frank, stand apart not only in their genius but also in the generous nature of the bodily organs. The vocals have a seam-splitting nonchalance, the guitar work an acidity like soap, the rhythms a pulsing fervor like tender genitalia. G.S.’s notes aren’t sung but are talked with singsong intonations that sound like singing to the uninitiated. Bob is versatile (drums, bass, guitar, vocals, fried dumplings); he pens strident, saucy lyrics and attributes calculus to Leibniz, not Newton. When Frank plucks at the guitar strings, we hear resonant vibrations to which only dogs normally have access. Mike Joo, the reclusive Ear, croons, strums and laughs artfully. The nucleus is augmented impressively by a slew of hired guns and appointed Ears. Dave, Mike W., Chris, Jim and Jon showcase their considerable talents and contribute to the unique recording amalgam wryly known as Ear Wax. This first CD throbs with intrigue. Amid my saliva-laden muttering of “yes, yes, yes” as I convulse on the floor in the fetal position, I also ask “why, why, why?” Why is there so much swearing? Why do the first four tracks induce nose bleeding in pets and small children? Why do the back up vocals seem to mock me? I feel the band insidiously forcing my hand as I waver between civic responsibility and freakish discipledom. Why can’t we all have Mouse Rooms?
Finally, I conclude that we who inhabit the mortal realm will never fathom the machinations of these eclectic musical rogues. Their sound transcends physical laws dictating our apparent universe. Upon first playing, you embark on a voyage deep, deep, deep into the inner space of your own psyche, frighteningly confronting your needs and desires, your spirituality, nay, even your encroaching mortality. To say, “I listen to Van Gogh’s Ear” is wrong. You do not listen to the band, you hear them. I say “Bring on the Van Gogh’s Era!”