Grampall Jookabox – Scientific Cricket

Grampall Jookabox
Scientific Cricket

Some might consider Grampall Jookabox a freak-folk group but I am not too keen on that. When I hear “freak-folk” I think serious, long-bearded neo-hippies and when I hear the music of Grampall Jookabox I picture an old miner drinkin’ ‘shine and playin’ the spoons, laughing and having a good time. I love Joanna Newsom’s Ys and some of Devendra Banhart’s albums, but they take themselves so seriously. Maybe they feel they have to take themselves seriously because of the music they make; it is definitely not what I think of when the term “indie” is thrown around. So, maybe the freak-folkers are finally feeling comfortable to just be weird and fun, making light of music that has been very serious (barring “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” by Arlo Guthrie) for way too long now.

The beauty of Grampall Jookabox’s debut album, Scientific Cricket, lies in its humor, which is the main feature that makes this album so engaging and addictive. At first, I felt almost put-off by the extremely lo-fi, grainy sound of “Candle, Spirit, Leave” and the plodding chant on “Ponta,” but then I realized that it is fun. This album does not function to revive a sound, it functions to channel old folky sounds into a new, almost Animal Collective-esque body. Grampall Jookabox want you to be jubilant and dance while you listen to their music, not brooding and down-trodden like most folk makes you feel because of the emphasis on death and corruption. But its hard to not laugh when you listen to the track “Liggle Timmy Toothpick” which starts with the lyrics “Little Timmy Toothpick, Skinny as a toothpick/ standing by his mother and she told him if the shoe fits/ wear it!” and later on in the song a girl in the background says “Timmy sucks” and someone else says “Yeah, suck that Timmy! Har har har.” Then on “Biz Biz Business” we hear “Hi, my name’s David and I want an accordion solo! [enter short accordion solo]”

I should not give you the wrong impression, not everything on Scientific Cricket is in jest; there are serious songs like “Good Country Folk,” with its plodding melody following a plodding message about growing up in the country with lonely whistling adding even more beauty to the song. On “We’re The Small Windows” there is a complete “freak(-folk) out” with chipmunk vocals, occasional pounding drums like thunder, and really thin, empty guitar. “We’re The Small Windows” is one of the many tracks that show how Grampall Jookabox work with space and atmosphere, rather than through instrumentation alone, to build an ol’ timey vibe.

Overall I am impressed by the ability of Grampall Jookabox to take a sound that is usually so stiff and serious, turn it around and make every song a genuine joy to listen to, whether the song itself is serious or just screwing around. Every song is very hodge-podge sounding, seemingly just jamming, but the tracks maintain their focus and seem to build excellently; they always leave me feeling fulfilled, whether it is just a track or the entire album I listen to.

As an aside, I was wondering how this band would be able to convert these songs to a live setting and not have them turn back into regular ‘ol folk songs, with sparse acoustic instrumentation and all that typical stuff, but a friend pointed me in the direction of some of their live songs and they are as much fun as the album versions.