Do you remember when “alternative” was a viable, all-encompassing descriptor for the artists that were fortunate enough to fall outside the realm of fledgling hair-metalers and manufactured pop stars? Just like Crystal Pepsi was the alternative to Coke II’s unabated dominance of the poorly conceived soda market, artists such as the Crash Test Dummies and Beck were the alternative to the Mariah Careys and Motley Crues of the world. Granted, such oversimplification meant acts such as the Breeders ended up sharing shelf space with 4 Non Blondes, but mistakes happen. Fast-forward some fifteen years and thanks to a continued fragmentation of styles and the creation of several terrible amalgams (screamo?!), the term “alternative” has become as archaic as those Zubaz pants you purchased back in ’92. With the piss-poor output of once-celebrated alternative artists, the tranquil mini-United Nations of musical species (curated by Secretary General Perry Farrell, of course) is now as derided as Brian Setzer’s ill-fated attempts at reviving the jitterbug. Don’t tell that to the members of Alice Donut. Fuzz is an unabashedly early-’90s-“alternative”-sounding record that is as refreshing today (when compared to the formulaic mainstream rock varietals) as it would have been back in ’92 next to a Mariah Carey disc.
Fuzz, the band’s second album since forming in 2003, is a like a love letter to a deceased relative. Useless pining? Check. Idealized reminiscing? Check. Bringing up that embarrassing incident you’d both love to forget? Most certainly. Opener “Madonna’s Bombing Sarajevo” begins with, what else, fuzzy guitar. But that’s the last predictable moment on the album. Like several songs on Fuzz, “Madonna” is a hodgepodge of styles and rhythms so erratic and capricious, you have to wonder if the band members have degrees in ethnomusicology from the Zappa School for the Arts: the song (or opus) seamlessly meanders through four distinct movements while making room for trombone among the distortion-laced din.
Similarly, “Days Away (At the Wake of a Friend)” boasts two distinct, but well-suited passages: a vocal-less intro dominated by drunken, staccato rhythm and an Irish drinking song cum galloping dirge. Like a nimble chef who pairs chocolate with sea bass, Alice Donut manages to fuse styles that would seem completely incongruous on paper. Amongst the divergent tones, lead singer Tomas Antona’s androgynous sneer — equal parts Johnny Rotten and Brian Molko — serves to unite the chaos. Not all of Alice Donut’s endeavors are so ambitious, however. “Night” is the band members’ one-minute-and-fifty-four-second attempt at recapturing their snot-nosed punk reputation, and “Johnny’s in the Basement” is the vehicle for Antona’s bizarre meanderings: “I see the nerve/ and icy with verve/ Harmon Killebrew/ Maya Angelou.” Unfortunately, for much of the album, Antona’s lyrics are buried in the mid-dominated mix. It’s only when he’s accompanied by a chorus of himself (in Alice Cooper-like fashion) that his words become intelligible.
Alice Donut is alternative if only because it defies categorization. Or, we could go with how the band members describe their group: “an eclectic, hard-to-define tripped out mixture of hard rock, punk, grunge, pop and post-punk, often punctuated by brass, banjos, washboards, and the occasional abused household device.” Yeah, I’ll stick with alternative.
Band Web site: http://www.alicedonut.com/
Label Web site: http://www.howlerrecords.com/Streaming audio: http://www.myspace.com/alicedonut