Come one, come all. The punk-rock circus has come to town, and only here can music from the Apes be found. Grab some dollars and steal some coin; it’s aboard the green bus with the Apes you’ll join. They’ll take you to Baba’s Mountain, where organs play and a dark band of schizophrenic monkeys lounge all day.
This is the land that Washington, D.C.’s indie-punk outfit known as the Apes paints on Baba’s Mountain. The band’s third album and first for Birdman, Baba’s Mountain takes the Apes further into their distinct, diverse universe of sound that always keeps listeners guessing. They’re not the kind of band that can easily name-check its influences. The Apes leave behind the simple guitar/bass/drum formula, replacing the guitars with organs and using the bass as if it were a metal guitar sloshing through power chords. That change in the rock recipe leads to a dark circus sound throughout Baba’s Mountain that counteracts with elements of metal and spook rock.
But the mix of carnival sounds and moods ends up doing more damage than good. Ringleader Paul Weil’s vocals dominate most of the album, and keyboardist Amanda Kleinman’s music-box melodies keep time under metal bass guitar. At times, like on “Baba’s Mount,” they hit catchy dark-rock grooves driven by black-circus organs. “Ornaments and Windchimes,” where keyboardist Kleinman sings with a Mary Poppins spook, creates a creepy festival aura. “Organ Syrup” sounds as if Danny Elfman and Faith No More were making out on the steps of a gothic castle. But the problem with Baba’s Mountain is that it never hits a consistent groove. Each song has its moments, but none stand out.
The album has all the fillings to make it a concept piece, and in this it attempts to take the listener into the shadows that lie on top of Baba’s mountain. But after a few songs it grows increasingly tried. It’s akin to that time you realized that a grown man dancing around in makeup as a clown and making animals out of balloons is plain boring. If, on the other hand, you never hit that point, are still intrigued by common circus clowns and would do anything to live in The Nightmare Before Christmas, this may be your new religion.