File the Hollows’ recent album Belong to the Land under weird psychedelic Americana. Some of this sounds like Queen playing country music; other songs evoke Pinataland at their most surreal and out-of-focus. Perfectly illustrative moment: a bright piano pop song about a country church…titled Basilica. The songs have vintage 80s big room production; the lead instruments are David Paarlberg’s rippling piano and Daniel Kwiatkowski’s banjo. And frontman/bassist Jeffrey Kurtze’s soaring delivery owes more to, say, U2, than to the Stanley Brothers. A lot of this is so bizarre that it defies description – there are more WTF moments here than in your average Mitt Romney speech. And as psychedelia ought to be, it’s often considerably funny. “Mad as cows at sunrise”? That might be one of the lyrics in Mad As Dogs, the album’s best track, a seductively murderous banjo tune spiced with electric guitar and echoey Rhodes piano…and hints of metal in the vocals. This might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but you can’t say it’s not original.
Old Brown Dog is mandolin-fueled country gospel done as spiky psychedelic indie pop: then it goes halfspeed and morphs into a march like the late 60s Kinks. Ostensibly a bluegrass tune, Josephine echoes Balthrop Alabama’s theatrical ventures into Americana. Persephone recasts the Greek myth as hillbilly ballad: “They closed up her garden with bright yellow tape,” Kurtze announces. The ecstatic vocals of Sticks and Stones – which could be the Verve taking a stab at bluegrass – belies its morbid lyric. And the flat-out strangest song here could be the slow, hypnotically wintry piano ballad Poor Eyes, with its bizarre evocation of a girlfriend who apparently likes the taste of sawdust.
Not everything here is that off-the-wall. Whiskey and Wine echoes Nick Cave’s adventures in gospel, while Burgundy, a lushly orchestrated, artsy Britfolk anthem, outdoes Coldplay at the drama game. There are also a couple of casually bouncy banjo songs – and one awful white blues number – that hark back to the era of hippie bands like Delaney and Bonnie. The album ends on a down note with a faux-sensitive Bon Jovi-style stadium rock ballad disguised as oldtime C&W. This is one of those albums that’s great to slip into the mix when the party’s going full steam, if you really want to get everybody’s attention.