I once thought that the day I heard the word “salmon” echoed loudly at the conclusion of a song would be the day that I found God. Thanks to Max Wood, I’m now a believer.
The Florida-born son of a Sub Pop employee, Wood began his musical journey at age 12 upon receiving a Casio MT-46 and a four-track. Eventually, the boy wonder invented bizarre musical creations and distributed homemade tapes to prospective fans at record stores and Laundromats. Two self-distributed albums and two labels later, there stood the magic that is Africa Baby.
Applied Communications is certainly not typical, but there is a slight issue, not with one-man-band Wood’s music, but with the concept of the artist himself. Wood makes up for the deficiency of solo musicians who create mayhem inspired by videogame bells and nerd rap, but he draws far too close a similarity to the brain behind Atom and His Package, Adam Goren. Both are heroes to self-proclaimed geeks everywhere, using their wit (and nifty keyboard abilities) to make music that will likely never receive airplay. Both combine obviously un-hip beats and melodies with junior high squeals and blatantly bizarre lyrics. And of course, both wear extremely noticeable glasses, completing the image.
What Wood’s musical alter ego lacks, however, is a genuine image that he can pass as his own. He varies a bit from the retired Atom by focusing more on danceable, pop-rap beats than a so-called punk facade. And unlike Atom, he brings to mind thoughts of Telemundo and early-’90s rap (“Urban Renewal”) as well as the first wave of Mario Bros. games (“Casiobeat MT-40”). But his voice strains to reach the genuine level of nerd that Goren so effortlessly achieved. Perhaps Wood has certain insight that others have failed to gain regarding future music trends — provided nerd rock becomes a trend, of course.
Strangely enough, this fourth album from Applied Communications reeks of accidental quality, a result that its creator likely hadn’t anticipated. It seems Wood is too intelligent and musically talented to pull off the oh-so-indie, purposely uncool mess of sound that he appeared to be aiming for. While his song titles are innocent in that “Look Mom, I’m five and I wrote a song” sort of way — particularly “Ocean! Ocean! Ocean!” and “Peanut Butter Disco” — I’d almost feel guilty pointing out his level of wit when scrutinizing such intentionally amateur songs.
On the other hand, there is something charmingly nihilistic about someone who can proudly proclaim: “You may be a fish, I may be a boy. Together we can be a fish and a boy.”