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Dischordia! at the Disco
Created by Mister M on 8/28/2012 12:55:20 AM

Music correspondant Mister M gives his thoughts on Disco Dischordia, the new album from Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band.


 

Oh, you clever, clever sonsabitches! Saving the perfect song to review as the last tune on the album and making me try to think critically for nearly 55 minutes before you drop that bomb! Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band, you are sly.

So the last song on Disco Dischordia is “Disco Balls-Hot Pants,” which gets point for a bawdy sense of humor right off the bat. The first thing I notice is the accordion. The critic in me immediately thinks of “You Dance” by Motion Trio. It’s an acoustic techno track by a Polish accordion group. (Think Kronos Quartet, but with squeezeboxes.) ENSMB is already declaring that they’re performing a disco track, and they’re subverting the expectations (while fulfilling them melodically) within the first couple bars.

Then a minute and a quarter into it, you feature the banjo solo! It’s not even some crafty Cripple Creek pickin’ and grinnin’ clawhammer breakdown; it’s simply using it as a rhythmic substitute for 70s waka-waka chicken scratch guitars. If you’re really trying to make me work for it, this is a nod to the influence of disco on hip-hop culture, which can be likened to the banjolele stylings of Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer, parlaying a steampunk connection. And that was just on my first listen! Going back to the track, I realize that the banjo was there from the beginning, meshing with the song via thoughtful instrumentation.

Then you throw in some violin. You’re messing around with conventions again! It’s both a nod to Stephane Grappelli’s violin accompaniment to the hot jazz of Django Reinhardt (and hearkening to the gypsy sounds that you capture so well elsewhere on the album) and to folk fiddle sounds by removing it from its more standard classical associations. Good job playing the highbrow and lowbrow cards!

And you throw in a surprise at the end. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil it for the readers. No, it’s nothing as cheesy as a bonus track.

You know what really gets me with this track? It’s the fact that is solid four-on-the floor set the dance floor burning disco thump. The album has more than its share of musical styles. There’s a jazzy noir to “Mysterious Object” and “Ramshackle Metropolis.” You call up the old-timey with the Dixieland parade of “Davis Square Double-Time” and the burlesque of “I Forget.” You’ve got whirling gypsy skirts on “Crzi Voz” and “Gilahart Laku Lerky Unky Delunky Turkall Hey.” But you save the titular disco for last, allowing us to forget about it while we revel in the album and then—bam!—you deliver.

My only real criticism of “Disco Balls” is one that runs through the album. It gets a bit monolithic at times. Too much all at once doesn’t reproduce a Phil Spector Wall of Sound. It makes a slab. It felt like there wasn’t much breathing room until “Mysterious Object,” and that was seven songs in. This is probably an issue inherent to the structure a marching band. They’re accustomed to playing as a unit, not isolating the individual pieces.

And who’s going to be listening to the pieces when you’re too busy shaking your butt?

Disco Discordia is available at CD Baby.

Mr. M plays theremin and other oddball musical devices in the old-timey mad scientist band The White City Rippers. He also spins the amber oldies with the Lords & Ladies DJ crew.

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