The Apes – Oddeyesee

The Apes

So it is agreed that the greatest rock bands are the ones that never existed. The incomparable accomplishments of such interdimensional icons as Adam and the Patriarchs, Mumbletypeg, and Tittyhawk are not in any way tarnished by those groups’ communal and fundamental lack of ever actually being. States of existence are irrelevant to the scope and girth of rock music. The strange and indefatigably fantastic best the quantifiable and “real” every time. It’s a damn shame the Apes exist.

Yes, it is a shame that the Apes exist, for were they but a concept, or shades flickering upon the cavern walls, their brilliance would be unrivaled. As it is, they are very real, and thus somewhat less amazing than what could have been. All the intangibles that surround the Apes, their concept and vision, their theology and anthropology, mark them as perhaps the finest and most adept extent progenitors of that most essential rock element, “retarded genius.” It is deeply unfortunate that their undeniably great music can remain overshadowed by the band’s ideas and performances.

Oddeyesee is the Apes’ second album. It is worlds better than their first, The Fugue in the Fog, which is a damn good record in its own right. Oddeyesee is one of the best records I have heard thus far this year. It is still not as good as the idea of it, however, or as mighty as these Apes’ live shows. The timeless yarn of a perilous quest for a magical two headed butterfly, Oddeyesee benefits greatly from the effusive use of florid adjectives and vaguely political parable. The utter dearth of restraint, in any form, deserves the deepest respect from the listener, and that respect, when duly given, shall mutually reward audience and performer in equal measure.

So the Oddeyesee goes something like this. The four Apes – Jackie Magic, Ronald Wolf, Majestic Ape, and Count 101 – take an ark down the river in search of the aforementioned Gemini Butterfly, a “green-eyed insect” that is both historian and prophet. En route they encounter the twin floating brains Brainbow and Brainbro, disease-spreading robots, the video-game junkie Myop, and, most fearfully, the evil Worwiz, who promotes development and modernization over the preservation of the natural element, and who basically just makes a big mess of it all. Worwiz got bombs, too. But so, this story is told through the healing power of verse set to music, and that is what we should be taking notice of here today, the songs.

There are several songs here, and a few tracks of narrative. Some of these songs sound like the Apes we’ve known all along, like “Aboard the Ark,” which is a straight-forward battering ram of a tune, all deep bass with slightly sinister (yet flowery) keys swimming along. Elsewhere they unveil new dimensions of Apehood. The unsettling “How You Like Me Now” is sublime psychedelia suffused with dread and paranoia. “While Majestic Ape Sleeps” reveals a more mellow, somber, and elegiac side of the Apes; the layers of keyboards sufficiently portray the sort of melodies one hears in dreams. If they broke into “Turkey in the Straw” for some inexplicable reason, “While Majestic Ape Sleeps” wouldn’t sound out of place on an ELP live album. The Ape sounds remains easily recognizable, but over the course of Oddeyesee they refine and redefine this sound into something far more expansive and impressive than before.

The story element of the album intrigues as much as the music. It seems, through lack of perception and knowledge of the past, mankind is gradually being replaced with robots. The appreciation of nature and livin’, is being replaced with shallow, empty, soulless activities, such as video games (“Myop’s Coin-Ops”) and clubbing (“Crystal Coco-Tech”). The vagaries of this modern condition, in which we all find ourselves amid the “Forest of Confusion,” present the perfect opportunity for the duplicitous, warmongering wizard Worwiz to rise to power, whereupon he subjugates nature fully to overdevelopment and postindustrialism, and finally just blows the whole damn thing up. This is some daring political ground to tread in these ever more conservative times, and the Apes should be commended for their foresight and steely-eyed resolve.

Like another recent “indie-rock” “concept record,” the Masters of the Hemisphere’s I Am Not a Freemdoom, Oddeyesee concerns itself with some rather serious issues, but in a manner so patently absurd that any of the pretension and pomposity that so frequently undermines pop-music politics is deflated and destroyed before the proceedings even being to proceed. That is where the retarded genius shines through; the music is great, the ideas behind the story aren’t really anything to laugh about, but the presentation is done in such an awesomely ridiculous fashion that it becomes obvious that the politics aren’t really the point. From time to time, the glorious idiocy of rock music can be twisted and contorted into something less idiotic, and yet still fundamentally stupid, in the best possible of ways; that is the nature of retarded genius, and that is the spirit that wafts through Oddeyesee. And of course, the utmost heights of retarded genius reside in the band or album that never leaves the realm of the conceptual and incorporeal, and thus the purest, most exhilarating expressions of retarded genius will never exist. Everything about Oddeyesee is great; the ideas behind Oddeyesee are even greater. But let’s not begrudge the Apes their very being; indeed, we’ve got to be thankful for every good rock band we can get these days.