Rock of ages 

Pump up the Volumen on Cries from Space

For a while there, it was looking like the sole criterion for quality in music was the degree to which a band “rocked.” Ah yes, the heady days of Speedealer and Nashville Pussy, when a music fan could drink 16 cans of Pabst and whet his craving for RAFR (that’s “rock and f***ing roll,” guy) watching bands that rock all night, then summarily proceed to an after-hours party and talk about just how much they rocked, and maybe ingest a little AC/DC, a band which traditionally was also said to have rocked.

And a band like the Fireballs of Freedom, well, those guys can’t help but rock. They get more rocking done just standing in line for the bathroom than AC/DC’s Brian Johnson could ever aspire to. But I guess all of this is only under the purview of the late-night music-and-drinking enthusiast. I doubt very much that Bill Kittredge, for instance, cares how much or how little a band rocks. In any case, we must credit Volumen with attempting to deliver us from such a state of affairs. Rocking is nice, but it’s no substitute for band cohesion and songcraft, both of which the Volumen are teeming with.

The two founding Volumen, Shane Hickey and Doug Smith, arrived in Missoula in the mid-’90s under somewhat mysterious circumstances. They came from windswept Laramie, Wyo. where Doug had done time in a band called Some Kind of Cream (who, interestingly enough, played at a bar in Missoula called Trendz long before he ever moved to Missoula) and Shane had been getting a math degree and learning how to configure network routers.

The original manifestation of Volumen consisted of Shane and Doug, a drum machine, and an unhealthy obsession with Ween. On show flyers, the word Volumen was written under a square root symbol, suggesting that there was indeed some serious dork action afoot. This was compounded when Volumen got into some sort of interplanetary showdown with the band Servotron that, to the best of my knowledge, remains unresolved.

Shane and Doug put Volumen on the back burner temporarily in about ’97 in order to form, with current Sasshole drummer Jen Tachovsky, the now-defunct Poor White Trash, a stupefying maelstrom of trailer-park epithets rapped over fresh beats. Verily did they single-handedly alter the Jay’s Upstairs demographic every time they played. Rap-starved teens began showing up to try to live out their version of Dr. Dre’s gangsta-land fantasia.

But now there’s a new reconstituted version of Volumen—one with an ambulance. They drafted Shane’s brother Bryan on bass, Bobcat Marshall on drums and Chris P. Bacon (go ahead, say it out loud) on keyboards, and Volumen have undergone a sea change in their sound and in caliber as well. Bob’s one of those drummers who kicks a band’s game up a notch purely by dint of his presence. If Bob’s drumming in your band, there is, by mathematical inference, no possible way your band can suck.

Bryan Hickey is about the most solid and ego-free bass player Missoula has ever known. And his creepy Teen Wolf mustache and stage grin provide a visual element to the live show that lingers in your subconscious memory for weeks after. Bacon is an incredible talent and a natural showman who makes shrewd and judicious use of a variety of synthesized sounds, to say nothing of his vocal abilities. It’s so rare these days that a keyboard is used for anything other than an annoying stage prop, so Crispy’s astuteness is really that much more astounding.

Last summer found Volumen touring the nation in their refurbished ambulance, favoring audiences with their unique brand of melody-making. In August, they took time out to record Cries from Space with noted producer and Fucking Champs founder Tim Green in San Francisco. The eight-song album will be released on Missoula’s hit-making Wäntage USA imprint.

“Long Haul” is evidence that a prog-rock fixation is at play, with its faux-Moody Blues vocals and sweet arpeggiated acoustic guitar. But this track is set apart when it abruptly diverts into a bizarre Iron Maiden-style segue featuring Bacon’s lilting falsetto. “Daddy’s Other Finger” is severely disturbing in its topical matter, but you’d never guess it from the pleasing melody on the surface. Likewise, “Sexy Astronaut,” which has the most adorable little synthesizer part you ever did hear, making you wonder just how romantic it would be to watch two astronauts make out in their spacesuits, their face masks so improbably pressed together.

“Type o’ Girl” would not sound terribly out of place on the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack, or a Frank Zappa album, for that matter. This song evidences a host of multi-faceted songwriting abilities, all of them used to great effect. In fact, don’t act surprised when Volumen get asked to score a summer blockbuster film in the near future, if this tune is any indication.

And lo! Glory be unto the wonder of technological advances, for this CD will be enhanced with super 8 movies, including footage of Volumen playing their hit single “Erika” live in the studio at Los Angeles’ KXLU radio station. There’s also plenty of footage of other high jinks on the road and in the ambulance.

Volumen have come to spare us from any further punishment at the hands of bands who’ve come to rock you senseless. This is the best rock album to come out of Missoula since the Oblio Joes’ Sin Tax and Some Antics. And it doesn’t even rock very hard.

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