4 out of 5
Label: Kill Rock Stars
Produced by: John Congleton
There was a point in the late 2000s when John Congleton was rocking out with Paper Chase and swirling around a growing group of respectable and awesome indie bands who sounded great with his low-end heavy, room-filling production sound. Acting more as a guiding hand, if the bands lacked a distinctive sound or were too rocky, it didn’t quite work, but with his name on a lot of projects, there were definitely more hits than misses, and some pairings were just too perfect. Such as: Two Ton Boa, with Shelly Fraser’s husky vocals paired off against drum and bass-heavy compositions with a kind of circusy, prancing pace that synced pretty well against Paper Chase’s noisier but similar syncopation. From the kick off of Cash Machine, if you’re down with the beat, and Fraser’s flip-flopping between chanting and cooing, you’re sold; lyrically, the takedowns of capitalism or female competition or the male gaze aren’t topically breaking ground, but Fraser constantly finds compelling ways to present it and visualize it, and musically, Congleton fills the room with the precision percussion (Dan Rieser), a thumping bass (Brian Sparhawk), and Shelly’s show-woman vocals.
With all of this focus on these forefront elements, the guitar – and some interesting synth flourishes – get sort of lost, and the immense focus on the beat can, at a quick pass, relegate some tracks to sound similar. But the group always lands on the most groove-worthy riff a few seconds in to any given track, making verses and choruses quite distinctive and memorable.
A few years later, St. Vincent would discover John’s abilities and team up for several albums, and soon after that, further stars came a’callin’ and we sort of lost the raw Congleton edge to a mainstream shimmer. And then I put Two Ton Boa on, and remember how many awesome bands to which he drew my attention.