A mini rock opera and the whimsically sublime 

Super Confident Guy, Volumen

Volumen are just so damned good. It was great to see a crowded house for them at last week’s CD release party—all their friends and fans, as well as a number of people who seemed to be there either accidentally or for the event more than the music, but got a healthy dose of Volumen at their most showmanshippin’ into the bargain. A number of people mentioned they’d never heard, only heard of. I think I’m getting to be rather a connoisseur, and I’d say their performance was not only typically good, but one of the better shows of theirs I’ve seen this year. A change of venue certainly added to that feeling, as did the gung-ho crowd.

As for the CD part, Super Confident Guy isn’t really huge news as a release unless you were one of the unfortunate few (quite a few, actually) who caught on to the Volumen phenomenon too late to pick up the first pressing of their sold-out How Do You Spell...? CD, released in June of last year. Which is basically what Super Confident Guy is—a canny move for making the 15-song How Do You Spell...? available again with three new tracks and a remix, packaged backwards as an EP with bonus album included.

As is usually the case with any album or movie or book you’ve loved almost to the point of hating it, I really envy anyone getting to hear these songs for the first time. After someone forwarded me an ambivalent review of How Do You Spell...? in a Spokane weekly a few months ago, a politely dissenting letter to the editor eventually brought it to light that the CD had been making the rounds of the office for almost a year and that everyone who heard it fell in love with it. So much so that no one felt comfortable reviewing it, so the task was given to a freelancer who probably listened to it once before voicing the same conclusion as a lot of other reviewers: silly, undignified, and a trifle distracting.

I generally agree, but I also consider those traits to be strengths as opposed to weaknesses. God, who needs another grimly serious and self-absorbed band? One thing that emerges from reading Volumen reviews by people who have never seen them live is that, for as obviously talented as they are on their recordings, you really need to see them live to appreciate just how talented. And fun. This live-show comeuppance would be especially edifying for the detractors who find them undeniably talented in a throwaway kind of way.

That’s a bonus to living in Missoula. Alas, many would-be converts will never get the chance to see Volumen live. So, for those legions who can be safely counted on to Just Not Get It, Super Confident Guy probably won’t do much to cut through the mumblings of “joke band” touched off by its predecessor. Three new songs—the celebrated title track, “F.O.F.” and “Videogamin’,” plus an interesting but generally inexplicable “S.C.G.” remix by DJ Major Terror (aka Aaron Bolton)—that resemble their current live versions more closely than do most of the songs on the bonus album.

My one complaint is that, of all the songs they could have recorded with electronic drums, they just had to go and do it on “Super Confident Guy.” Why? It trivializes a signature song, and probably the one that would have gone the farthest toward convincing the doubters that Volumen can be serious just long enough to elevate silliness into something really sublime. The electronic drums just don’t jibe.

Bottom line: Super Confident Guy is a useful release but not indispensable if you already own How Do You Spell…?. Hopefully, even as you read this, Volumen will be re-recording the EP tracks along with other new material like “Snakes” and the stellar “Sexy Astronaut” with the Champs’ Tim Green at his Louder Studios in San Francisco. In the meantime, a better recorded representation of the direction Volumen are headed can be heard on the four-song Wäntage single: two live tracks culled from a live show on KBGA and two straight-ahead winners, “Erika” and “Face,” recorded earlier this year in Portland with Mike Lastra. They flat-out smoke.

One Point Plan, One Point Plan

Speaking of catching on late, if you haven’t seen local suite-rockers One Point Plan yet, you’d better do so soon because guitarist Chris Pickolick is moving to Oregon. You have one more chance—at Jay’s Upstairs on Sunday night. Miss it and you’re S outta L. At least until the inevitable holiday reunion show.

One Point Plan are kind of the rara avis in the Jay’s punk milieu, where points are generally awarded for being able to acquit yourself as fast and loud as possible. The trio deals in extended suites that cover more ground than spotted knapweed and run through some pretty complicated dynamics and resourceful arrangements for a band with just bass, guitar and drums. Bassist Chris Baumann is a veteran of numerous Jay’s bands; guitarist Pickolick made a few cautious inroads with the Paul Bunyan Band before being drafted wholesale as the guitar whiz-kid in the short-lived Firehawk. He’s a puzzlement—a Steve Howe guitar player in a Johnny Thunders kinda scene. But the CD, like the band itself, is awesome. The suite pieces blend into one another, with the longest overarching theme, “Eudaimonea,” clocking in at 45:29. The subdued “It Was Earth All Along” is a third as long at 15:07, still plenty of time for the implied concept to manifest itself in a mini rock opera with equal parts overdubbed operatic guitar harmonics and atmospheric spatials. As my mom would say: what neat kids!

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