Review by: Nina Anatchkova
Album assigned by: Graham Warnken
The Internet doesn’t seem to know a whole lot about Teague Chrystie, apart from the fact that he is a visual effects artist and that he has at some point written a musical of the name “Sad Max” with another guy, named Jim Frommeyer. But this scant information does indeed put the 5-track record “Adventures in Faking This” into perspective. It suddenly does make sense that the guy who’s written it has had experience with musicals because all these songs are textbook-crafted. They showcase expert knowledge of how to do your song in this or that style, to suggest this or that. (And probably not a ton of originality, if I have to be honest).
The opening track, with the visually concrete title of “Limp-Dick Christmas Lights”, already suggests that if we’re not dealing with full on comedy here, it is at least spoofing or self-aware irony. The singing on it I’ll assign to the self-aware irony column, aping very successfully the Elvis Costello school of setting your lyrics to the music, but the musical backdrop is probably more suited to the spoofing column: there are even the obligatory announcing-a-Christmas-number jingly bells in the intro. The bombastic horns and the boogie-woogie rhythm associated dashing sleighs (or zombified shopgoers) really drive the point home here. Unfortunately, while I thought this track is super fresh and funny on first listen, by the fourth I kinda hated it the way I hate every Christmas boogie-woogie, jingle bell rock or bluesy number ever.
Next up is a delicate waltz time ballad of the name “Blank Walls and Crowded Shelves”. Now the waltz signature is used widely for such purposes as depicting nostalgia or comfort or feelings you’ve sort of made peace with or… yeah… a vignette of ordinary people’s life drama, which is the use it is put to here. The string accents emphasise the whole affair in just the right way and the corny lyrics are something I find no pleasure in listening to. But hey, I know for a fact that some people can have a cathartic experience on something like this.
I feel that “I Feel More Like a Leonard”, the third track here, is supposed to be this cultural reference or a sublime in-joke but I don’t know what it is about really. Again, the energy, passion and measured shredding are just as prescribed (textbook derivatives, remember) and the 6/8 meter is a nice touch that enables this song with a driving rhythm.
The penultimate “Writing a Letter” is a gentle piano ballad, equipped with a heartfelt vocal delivery and lyrical details such as “perfectly mature adult” and “can’t stand myself”. This sort of thing would work great in a musical actually — where you have to shed light on the internal character drama and his motivations. Outside this context though, again, it is something I have absolutely no interest in learning about.
The raunchiest track on here serves as a closer to this 5-part magnum opus and this time Mr. Chrystie puts on his best Gogol Bordello impression. “The Insidious Communist Propaganda of Steve” opens on a rhythm as heavy as a drunk dancing bear from Belarus and sports the correct amount of chaotic enthusiasm to make it work, although the chorus-like “la-da-da-da”s are not nearly as drunken and tobacco-hampered as those that can be found on a Gogol Bordello record. The lyrics are probably funny too, if you can take communism puns and jokes by people who have a super vague idea of communism, which I usually cannot. In fact, why don’t we ban the word “propaganda” altogether — it certainly would make most high-school assignments more pleasant to read, as students would no longer feel the urge to use it left and right to prove they have understood the topic. It would also be relieved of its duty of a go-to word for people who cannot be bothered to do their own thinking. Anyway, the song features the obligatory spoken (or rather boisterously shouted) word coda and even gains steam to finish on a beat worthy of a balkan brass band. It does not hold as long as a balkan band would have it hold though (’cause that’s when the most frantic dancing happens), as it derails into its quirky component sounds pretty quickly. Oh and there is a scream.
So in conclusion, I’d say that “Adventures in Faking This” can be a fun record for a couple of listens, but I wouldn’t exactly cry if I never heard from it again. Congrats to Mr. Teague Chrystie on being so impressively good at faking this, though. The professionalism shines on all of the tracks.