The Erasables are a Gainesville, Florida-based band that has just spent three years making their debut album, “Heads in the Sand.” There was no rush to market for these veterans of the local music scene, all of whom are also veterans of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, musical eras that leave their imprimatur on the new CD.
One of the things you need to understand about Gainesville’s music scene is that people get into it young and stay in it for decades. While this might not be apparent among the college-age club bands, there is a whole other scene out there that involves more “mature” musicians (and more “mature” fans, of which I am one). The “mature” musicians in The Erasables–Bob McPeek, Fagan Arouh, David Ottenberg, Rob Rothschild and, post-CD recording, Brad Bangstad–have been at it for nearly four decades individually and, well, let’s just skip the collective number. The lengthy span of time has made each into a topnotch musician and “Heads in the Sand” is the confluence of these four talents transformed into a release that is wry, witty, contemplative, and pretty darn brilliant.
Each of three musicians (McPeek, Arouh, and Ottenberg) contributes four songs to the CD. Things kick off with McPeek’s “Long Story,” which is as fine an introduction to the band’s own story as one can imagine. The song’s haplessly verbose protagonist protests that his epic narrative is dull and banal and therefore unworthy of being heard, only to end up running off at the mouth while backed by an increasingly heroic prog-rock score. Towards the end, things get heraldic; the anti-hero who cannot shut up is trumpeted and goes out blazing, muttering into the fade-out about the utter worthlessness of his words. This song had me from the first chorus and nearly caused me to become the victim of road rage as I backed up traffic at a stop sign while replaying the clever choruses over and over.
“Long Story” was so slickly witty that it made me skip right over to the next McPeek contribution looking for more of the insanely appealing humor. “Calling Members of the Tribe,” though, turned out to be a Celtic New-Age-y and very earnest appeal to unseen fellow tribal members “out there, somewhere, barely hanging on” to “keep holding on.” Thanks to the brilliant satire of “Long Story,” I didn’t understand “Tribe” and wondered if it were a spoofy concept song until Bob McPeek wrote that it had been once been recorded with George Tortorelli on the vocals. George Tortorelli is another Gainesville legend, one largely known for the earthy spirituality of his music. That information allowed me to appreciate “Tribe” for what it is–a simple appeal to other humans with whom the singer shares certain philsophical and reflective empathies. The same earnestness holds true for David Ottenberg’s “Come See,” a deceptively easy little song that is the most hummable tune on the disc.
Because “Heads in Sand” can be divided by songwriter, it is possible to listen to it by author or by chapter. Taking the chapter approach and following it straight through resulted in my case in an original misapprehension of the material as “concept.” This was because I kept finding bits and pieces of well-loved musical motifs threaded into the material and also because I grew up in more or less the same era as the band members and likely have many of the same influences: The Monkees “Pleasant Valley Sunday” rose out of Fagan Arouh’s “Find Out Who I Am” and then disappeared again. At other times I heard snatches of Pink Floyd and Maharishi-era Beatles, retrieved from 1967 by a wonderfully trippy “Honest Hearts” (Fagan Arouh). Adding to a bit of early confusion was the name of the album, which suggested to me a happy rejection of the au fait in favor of the sounds of one’s youth.
This isn’t to say that the wry irony and humor that grabbed me in “Long Story” is absent on the rest of the tracks. David Ottenberg’s “Abraham’s Daughter” opens with the very pithy “I must be missing something/Like the source of your charm,” while one of the best lines on the CD is in Fagan Arouh’s “When I Come Around”: “…you’ve called attention to the crazy clothes you wear/They don’t suit you/But they’re looking good…”
David Ottenberg’s “Bella Modella,” about an ignoramus fashion model who should be as silent as the narrator of “Long Story” is garrulous, is a fun romp into episodic comedy that comes at just the right moment on the CD, between a couple more serious numbers and a few cuts before McPeek goes back to the deadpan seriocomedy in “Erased.”
Mention must be made here about the concept of erasure that gives the band its name. According to the band’s Web site, the song “Erased” was part of the repertoire prior to the band’s finding a name, and Bob McPeek was fond of quoting the “immortal words of producer John Kurzweg (a frequent guest at Mirror Image before and after achieving his fame working with Creed), intoned with mock British accent: ‘I find that quite….erasable!’ ”
With three songwriters/vocalists writing and singing the CD, there is always the possibility of headbutting taking place; someone’s love for psychedelia might hit another’s fondness for Celtic flutes over the head with a lava lamp, but this doesn’t occur here. Without knowing any better, you’d not realize the CD was the work of three different authors. The empathy each player has for his own sound and for that of each other creates a seamless volume that revivifies certain genres (ah, the Sixties) and explores new ones.
In the latter category is the CD’s last track, “Wiggle Room,” a rhythmically and melodically complex number created by sewing two different versions of the song together. “Wiggle Room” is hard to describe other than to say that you can do a fair number of popular Sixties dances to it and that it is in part a send-up of Frankie Valli with implications of B-grade horror movies set in a gleaming future. It’s great fun. It makes you want to stutter Lurch-like around the dance floor, arms outstretched, looking for, if not members of a like tribe, then at least a cosmically colored cocktail. This is what “Heads in the Sand” is about–a colloquium of some masterful technical give-and-take spun into orbit or brought to down to earth with assorted lyrical themes ranging from the straight to the deadpan Keatonesque (Buster) to the campy and fun.
Either way, the decades have not hung heavily on The Erasables. This is a hugely listenable and brilliantly creative CD that has been at the top of my playlist for the past month. Listen in and buy a copy at the band’s Web site.
HEADS UP: The Erasables CD release party is this Saturday night, October 23rd, at the Santa Fe College auditorium. From an e-mail:
Erasables and a cast of thousands in concert
Or you can come see us Oct 23 at 8 pm at Santa Fe College Auditorium (Building E, at the end of the campus closest to I-75). We will have several special guests appearing with us, including flautist/singer George Tortorelli, cellist Nellie Eshleman, percussionists and dancers from Santa Fe College, Gregg Jones’ life-size puppets doing the Watusi, some of our favorite female singers, and legend-in-his-own-mind Mock Jagger. As a final inducement for those who may have missed our recent downtown love-in, the Relics will also reprise some of your psychedelic faves.
Photo credit: Suzanna Mars