(Sin Duda Records, CD)
Rubblebucket’s lightning has dimmed a bit since its inaugural bottling at a 2007 Burlington Jazz Fest. In just four years, the now eight-piece “orchestra” has changed names, dropped players and split Vermont for Brooklyn. They’ve even shed their celebrated Afrobeat trappings, instead moving toward kaleidoscopic psych-pop that’s more Flaming Lips than Fela Kuti. Gone are the percussive, worldly compositions. What’s left is Omega La La; a studio detour both light and limitless, and almost entirely unexpected.
Fresh off the mixing boards, La La owes as much to producer Eric Broucek (LCD Soundsystem, Cut Copy) as to cosongwriters Alex Toth (trumpet) and Kalmia Traver (vocals). Broucek cultivates quirkiness in the real-life couple, choosing peculiar indie pomp over steady jams. There’s a sly whimsy to “L’Homme” born of Traver’s florid phrasing and Darby Wolf’s Super Mario keyboard loops. What opens as sweet Parisian pop soon transforms into a swirling, psychedelic horn and exhalation. Wildly kinetic, it’s a disco confection, buffed with BjÖrk-ian vocals.
Elsewhere, Jordan Brooks lassos “Silly Fathers” with a bass line loose enough to skip rope, and the band bounces cheerfully along. But the chorus feels slightly vacant. Imagine She & Him without Zooey Deschanel’s irresistible charm. “We’re not safe, we’re not secure,” insists Traver. Alas, nothing could be further from the truth. Sailing under the full weight of their ensemble, Rubblebucket are a seasoned octet whose conductors have reached new shores and burned the ships. It’s a strange little trip, if you’re willing to take the ride.
“Came Out of a Lady” rollicks with Beck-like synth and enough Latin stick work to incite a conga line. Toth and trombonist Adam Dotson blast short mariachi runs before ducking under Traver’s capricious vocals. With such easy swing, it’s no surprise that Rubblebucket match well against tour mates as stylistically divergent as String Cheese Incident, Pretty Lights and Ozomatli.
What’s less clear is where they’re headed. The band moves like a hummingbird tapping for sugar. Twee tracks such as “Triangular Daisies” are more geek than chic, with spacey keys and candied wordplay that wouldn’t be out of place on a Sponge Bob intro. “Raining” is an airy, melancholy morsel that’s just curious enough to please but too blithe to matter. Moody numbers such as the horn dirge “Weak Arms/Lifted” hint at sleepy STS9 atmospherics. Only the poppy jam “Worker” keeps Rubblebucket from disappearing into indulgence, as Traver’s sax recalls groovier times.
Omega La La is a bold turn from Burlington’s acclaimed big-band export; a sort of musical Jenga whose sum is no more certain than are its kinky, constituent parts. Let’s hope they don’t tumble the tower.
Rubblebucket play the Higher Ground Ballroom this Friday, April 29, with Million Young and Errands.
Omega La La officailly comes out on June 7, but is available as a free download to fans through rubblebucket.com.