Written by: Dave Cantrell
First a drift of feedback, then a series of bass drum/bass synth thumps that land like Carol’s footsteps. Next mix in a wood-chipping electric guitar, then some blatting keyboard effects that sound as if a trumpet’s being played inside out. Toss in a sister guitar line going chin to chin with the first and now the drummer’s got the whole kit going while other multiple ancillary pips and squeaks come calling and oh my this thing’s being built – nay, fomented – into a maelstrom, one presided over by a men’s chorus vocal track that we soon find out is just warming up. The song is called “The Falls” and thus, in the first two minutes of Fever Forms – the fifth album from Austin-based band The Octopus Project – are two facts irrefutably clear: the band has never had a bolder command of their own quirky inventiveness; and they’ll go to almost any lengths to illustrate that. Mostly this is a very good, jumpily delightful thing. To draw cohesion from such disparate corners is no easy task, and their much-lauded integration of the digital and analog literally explodes with conciseness over much of this record.
“Pyramid Kosmos” posits the Kronos Quartet gone way off their meds, dashing about the playground with escapees from Conny Planck’s summer school program. They all end up playing video games in the lobby, of course. The bass-driven instrumental “Mmkit” goes clipping along predictably breakneck, the effects subservient to unstoppable programmed hand-claps and a rhythmic drive propulsive enough to fire a rocket out of a crypt. The band seem to have someplace they need to be in a hurry, but as good as “Mmkit” sounds you hope they never quite get there. Just under three minutes long, it’s quite possibly the most captivating 1/20th of an hour you’ll spend all summer.
Indeed there is something wonderfully dizzy about much on here, a caroming kitchen-sink inclusiveness that can call to mind the heyday of showy, American pop-proggy 70s bands like City Boy and Crack The Sky, only more now and 21st C. frenetic. “The Man With The Golden Hand” throws itself together out of the scrolling mad electronic scree it opens with into a sunny (if busy-as-usual) romp, full of lively curlicuing guitars, whee! whee! keyboard antics and the tightest tambourine slaps perhaps ever, while “The Mythical E.L.C.” trips down more mysterious alleys, a near-instrumental (the vocals when they come are pretty much treated out of human existence) with so much darting hide-n-seek going on we lose track of which racing shadow we’re supposed to keep track of and we don’t care, we’re too carried along to care.
Known, according to their Wiki page, as primarily an instrumental concern, on Fever Forms they put nearly a full half paid to that, five of twelve tracks sporting vocals, though at times you wish they’d revisit that decision. “Whitby,” a short Stereolabby trifle punctuated by Pong-like synth stabs and the album’s first single, is, paradoxically, also one of its weakest links even as it’s agreeably frothy, a shot of Alpine marzipan. Like a lost Abba track found in a box of Crackerjacks, it’s fun to find but not long played with. “Choi Sighs” uses muffled ricochet voices to virtually no effect, the song too brief to be the type dreamy it wants to be, too long for the lack of ideas it holds.
But the vox aren’t always to blame. Next track “Death Graduates” filters the B-52’s through the giddy screen of Imperial Teen, in the process sweeping aside any reservations one my have about a song cramming new wave drum/bass/guitar, a big arching sonic pop bridge with a choir-like voice under-pinged by tippy-tap vibes and a(nother) space age chorus, all wrapped inside a Gossip-y go-go framework. Utterly ace.
Octopus Project tends to operate most effectively on the palpitative level, when they’re deploying heart-racing structural spin-arounds and bounce-abouts and every instrument and every player seems to be jumping into one another’s lap. Indeed one look at the personnel underscores the playfully incestuous nature of this band’s approach: Josh Lambert on guitar/bass/keys, Toto Miranda drums/guitar/bass, Yvonne Lambert samplers/keys/theremin/etc and Ryan Fig guitar/bass/keys. It’s easy to imagine reading that, and easy to hear listening to the album, how rousingly fun they must be live. At least this time around on Fever Forms, though, it’s when they dial it back that trouble arrives. “Perhap,” a mood piece, wastes a perfectly good song title by amounting to little more than four and a half minutes of floating by. Pretty as it is, it’s barely there. “Deep Spice” (another fab title!), though not nearly as soporific, plays out as little more than busyness in search of meaning, feeling like one long intro that ends just as it’s getting interesting.
These are, however, small potatoes in the grander pot being simmered here. Considering the multitude of flavors being brought to the table (yeah, we’re going to stretch this metaphor into an entire paragraph), what’s most surprising is how often they get the mix of ingredients just right. A lively stew that’s choice on the palate, it’s best served over-stirred and over-cooked.
Bringing things to a brimming, emblematic close, “Sharpteeth” is an everyone-jamming-full-speed-ahead jamboree, hurtling forward until a beguiling, flutey, faux-oriental theremin interlude out of which too many elements to name come rushing back out of the reedy mists to carry the whole blurry kaboodle back into a mad, tumbling-but-tight focus. Fever and form, then, and when Octopus Project get it right, you best hold on to your seat.
– Dave Cantrell