When a group of skilled musicians incorporate eclectic orchestration and zany humor into their sound, the result is usually very special. Case in point: the self-titled sophomore release by All The Apparatus. Full of bombastic production, extreme performances, and a plethora of styles, it’s easily one of the most diverse, fun, and interesting records I’ve heard this year.
Formed in Portland, the 11-piece street outfit defines itself as “Avant-garde dirty gypsy klezmer jazz indie anti-folk rock!” There’s also a touch of Latin flair and a fair amount of Ska instrumentation. Already garnishing comparisons to Gogol Bordello, Devotchka, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero, All The Apparatus blends so many styles so perfectly, its music is nothing short of brilliant. Tracks range from parody to poignancy, from goofy group sing-a-longs to somber ballads, and subsequent listens reveal just how well the songs are arranged.
As an introduction to the ensuing insanity, “Hat Trick” opens the album with carnival craziness, similar to Aficionado’s “March of Welcome” or Bigelf’s “Gravest Show on Earth.” Horns, drums, accordion, glockenspiel, and various keyed instruments welcome listeners ominously, as if The Decemberists became malevolent. Vocally, just about every member chimes in to help move the epic narrative along. It’s quite an opening.
“Let’s Go Ride Bikes” is simpler and very reminiscent of Madness and Dropkick Murphys, while “The Valley,” with its laid back island vibe and whistling, is like a relaxing bluegrass song (or something from Panic At The Disco’s Pretty.Odd). By contrast, “Chain’s of Damnation” is an angry and dirty lamentation. “Wolf Song” is a beautiful and calming tale, complete with fragile keys, recorder, and harmonies. Arguably the most impressive track on All The Apparatus, “Worm” bridges growled mumbling and Spanish rap with a high pitched kazoo (so it sounds like a duck). Finally, “Portland Rose” features the album’s greatest songwriting—an affective melody is complemented with delicate piano chords and lovely orchestration. If these styles sound intriguing, keep in mind that I’ve only touch upon ½ of the album; the remaining songs are also fantastic.
All The Apparatus is a terrific record. The combination of unconventional instruments, staggering variety, and playful energy makes it undeniably enjoyable. Albums like this represent how music can still be adventurous, daring, original, unique, and rewarding. The group expertly synthesizes serious musicianship with sardonic overtones, and overall, All The Apparatus definitely deserves to be on your music radar.