By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
The Merlowe Ran't
I can no more categorize this music than unscramble Brian Wilson's mind. Not that the Merlowe Ran't directly evokes the tangled genius of the Beach Boys' former frontman, but in its own well-meaning way, it tries to subscribe to it. That, and mid-'80s David Gilmour. (Or is that Roger Waters?) And early-'80s Peter Gabriel. And late-'60s Roger McGuinn. And...am I painting any sonic picture here? No? Didn't think so. But that's art rock for ya.
The Merlowe Ran't--the brainchild of ex-DJ and onetime KTCK-AM manager Danny Owen and partner Dell Little--is a suspect experiment recorded here and mixed at, good God, Abbey Road in London. We've got your flYgelhorns, your shock-the-Monkees and Garbage-rawk samples, your tribal-rant tangents, and, hell, let's toss in some Andy Timmons guitar work for good measure. Got it yet? Old-school art-rock meets street-cred post-modernity; face it, everything sounds like everything else, so maybe it's best to admit it up front. The Ran't's sophomore outing, Necropolitan Heights, sounds vaguely like what Pink Floyd might be doing if the members were still talking and taking anything stronger than over-the-counter meds, but it's hard to believe anyone other than die-hard Delicate Sound of Thunder fans would want to get intimate with it. (And how many of those are there?)
If nothing else, studio vet Owen, who's been noodling at mixing boards since the late 1960s, has balls and vision enough to think big; this is what ambition sounds like--that, and a big record collection purchased at Peaches in 1978. Necropolitan Heights is certainly no piddling effort; Owen has crafted something so dense and melodic and time-tunnel-ridden, you just want to dismiss this disc as pure (re-)hash...even as you find yourself rocking back and forth to the thing in nostalgic, escapist autism. Likely, Owen (like most musicians) would snort at any critic's attempt to ghettoize his music. In this case: He shoots, he scores.
Owen has enlisted not only Timmons, but other studio vets--among them Mike Gage on drums and Ken Mullen on horns--and the whole is as heavy and slippery as a big, wet killer whale. From the revered-and-raspy vocals of "Matador" to the 'shroomy, let's-sit-still-in-the-dark of "Poor Michael" to the curiously poppy (in a Crosby Stills & Nash kind of way) of "Nothing Rococo" (which comes complete with Garbage sample), the record ricochets around your brain in a schizophrenic, albeit distinctive, manner. Minor keys and acid trips meet Byrds riffs played by Thom Yorke and Mike Nesmith. See, here I go again, a confounded critic trying to get a handle on this whale with teeth. If there's an audience out there for this, I'd like to meet it. Should be a crowd with some stories.