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Ed Schrader's Music Beat, 'Party Jail' (Infinity Cat)( Handout )
RATING: *** out of 4
LISTEN ON SPOTIFY: Ed Schrader's Music Beat, "Party Jail"
The words of Ed Schrader have delighted and perplexed audiences for years. When he moved to Baltimore from his hometown of Utica, N.Y., in 2006, Schrader quickly made a name for himself in Dan Deacon's Wham City arts collective for reasons other than music. Schrader was, in fact, an aspiring solo musician, but he was more known for hosting an offbeat, and oftentimes surreal, monthly talk show at Metro Gallery.
At least that was the case until Schrader teamed up with Devlin Rice in 2010. Two years later, the duo released "Jazz Mind," a brooding debut album that presented their noisy formula plainly and confidently: Drummer and vocalist Schrader shouts and bangs on a lone floor tom as Rice played bass.
On Tuesday, the minimalist punk duo returns with "Party Jail," a second full-length album that finds Schrader and Rice embracing and refining their pop sensibilities while keeping the pace sugar-rushed. On standouts like "Televan" and "Radio Eyes," the duo attacks tracks with a deliciously bratty confidence that bubbled underneath the surface of "Jazz Mind," but now exists at the forefront here. The players remain fully committed to their short, punchy delivery, and now seem in complete control of when to twist and when to turn. "Laughing," for example, cleverly plays with a listener's expectation of when a crescendo should hit.
"Party Jail" is an intoxicating record, partly because of its brash musical dynamics (Schrader and Devlin can play their instruments, but they enjoy pounding them to a pulp, too) but even more so because of Schrader's unpredictable lyrics. The album is full of non-sequiturs that shirk logic ("brittle candy skull made of mints" on "Pink Moons") or provide descriptive-but-fleeting snapshots ("regal Pariah dogs share their little bit with hogs" on "Cold Right Hand").
The approach will understandably frustrate some, but there is simple pleasure in following Schrader's lyrical whims and strange combinations of verbs, nouns and adjectives. On "Pilot," he sings, "Pious priestess pull your eyelids / Candlelit vigil for the gilded siren / God save kings!" The brain asks, "Is this brilliant? Is this nonsense?" Maybe it's both.
Most impressively, Schrader and Devlin know when to exit. With 13 songs clocking in at 26 minutes, "Party Jail" is over before you know it, and that seems to be the point. (The record is strong and satisfying, but when it ended, there was no wishing it was longer.) Schrader and Rice know brevity is essential to the charm, and they're wiser for sticking to it.
-- Wesley Case