Hearing Things are Brooklyn’s funnest band and have been for the last three years or so. They play dance music that’s equal parts film noir, soul, go-go music, surf rock, creepy psychedelia and new wave. They’ve also been more or less AWOL lately since the core of the band – alto saxophonist Matt Bauder, organist JP Schlegelmilch and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza – have all been busy with other projects. But they’ve finally made an album, Here’s Hearing Things – streaming at Bandcamp – and they’re playing the release show at around 9 PM at C’Mon Everybody on May 24. Cover is $10.
Live, the band often sound like the Doors playing surf music, which makes more sense than you might think considering that Ray Manzarek got his start in a surf band. This album starts out in high spirits, gets more sardonic and ends very darkly.
The first track is Shadow Shuffle, a deliciously twisted remake of Green Onions: the band vamp out the second verse instead of sticking with a creepy chromatic reharmonization of the old Booker T & the MG’s hit. Schlegelmilch swirls and Bauder punches in alto and baritone sax parts throughout the catchy Tortuga, a go-go tune as the Stranglers would have done it.
Wooden Leg is a subtly sardonic horror theme in the same vein as Beninghove’s Hangmen, Bauder fluttering furtively in the low registers as the band picks up steam: it’s the album’s most deliciously noir epic.
Likewise, Stalefish is a more traditional, horror surf take on Turkish psychedelia, guitarist Ava Mendoza firing off slashing chords over baritone guitarist Jonny Lam’s snappy, evil basslines. Houndstooth is an evil, faux-loungey take on a blue-flame roadhouse theme, animated by irrepressible flurrying drumwork and more whipcracking from Lam.
Hotel Prison would be a slyly swayng take on balmy early 60s summer-place theme music if if wasn’t just a little too outside the lines. The outro is cruelly funny. Mendoza’s echeoey leads contrast with tongue-in-cheek, blippy organ. goodnatured sax and expertly flurrying surf drums in Uncle Jack. Then the band completely flip the script with Transit of Venus, the band’s first and most trippily macabre adventure in Ethiopian jazz,
The abum’s most epic number, Ideomotor opens with Bauder’s bass clarinet over jungly drums, Schlegelmilch’s organ slinking between them as a brooding, dubwise Ethopian theme gains velocity. .The album’s final cut is Triplestep, coalescing into a menacing mashup of Ethiopiques and a death row strut. Bauder gets the alto and baritone to get the Pink Panther to cross over to the dark side, up to a defiantly soaring alto solo that makes a killer coda for the album as a whole. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2019 page at the end of the year if we get that far.