Being in a town known for some mind expanding and often quirky acts (Tortoise, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Vandermark 5, etc.), Cheer-Accident stands out in their hometown Chicago. I guess you could pigeonhole them into experimental rock, but their music covers the gamut of (to name a few) Squeeze, Frank Zappa, Yes, Henry Cow and even the Beach Boys. It’s almost cliche to write an article about this band by tossing in a potpourri of disparate acts in an attempt to describe them, but try describing them from scratch and the article becomes a book.
Moreover, the music is all done up with cheery wit that’s been present in British avant-rock since the mid-60s emergence of the Canterbury scene but not as celebrated on these shores. In existence for thirty years, the band has gone through numerous line-up changes but remain in the forefront of all rock that’s idiosyncratic, zany and at times, technically brilliant. In fact, they had been recently touted by Signal To Noise magazine as one of the pioneers of math-rock.
I’m not about to take up all the space required to sift through their productive history (you can do that on your own at their website bio page), but their seventeenth release No Ifs, Ands Or Dogs has arrived, and that in itself is an odyssey. Founding member Thymme Jones is part of the current line-up, as is Jeff Libersher, Alex Perkolup and D. Bayne all who play a whole studio full of instruments. They’re supplemented by various vocalists, and horn guitar, bass and keyboard players.
The songs herein hit so many touchpoints of the weird alongside the conventional, but like a whole bandful of Adrian Belews, they prove to be master pop craftsman even as they fearlessly prance in areas few commercial acts know about, much less dare attempt to venture out to. “Drag You Down” is an elusively nearly straight ahead rock song crafted in the finest tradition of XTC, but from there it gets wiggy. The instrumental “Trial Of Error” is a throwback to early 80s synth rock, followed by another lyric-less tune, the veering, crunching “This Is The New That.”
Then begins a series of tunes that sprinkle pop magic on odd chord progressions and meters. In the middle of the dark, somber “Sleep” is a bridge with soaring, uplifting harmonies worthy of the Fifth Dimension. “Barely Breathing” (Youtube below), a single from last year, is a light, irresistible confection that belies the fatalistic lyrics. “Life In Pollyanna” is Robert Wyatt in mid-60s Beatles clothing, with some classic-period Yes tossed into the instrumental break. Short little reprises of full-length tunes abound that recast the original tunes in interesting twists (“Death By Pollyanna,” “Post-Somnia,” “Drug You Down”). “Drug,” for instance, has gorgeous, layered harmonies you wouldn’t expect from a band whose musicianship is a calling card. The rest of the tracks “Salad Dies,” “Empty Province,” and the eery, droning “Provincial Din”) venture more explicitly out to the avant garde, with elements of math-rock, punk, out jazz and ambient found in one place or another within these tracks.
After three decades, many long-running acts have long run out of ideas. Cheer-Accident in 2011 sounds like a band that’s barely dug into its big bag of tricks. The trickery on this album is no gimmickry, however, it’s just more of that Cheer-Accident ingenuity and daring. No Ifs, Ands Or Dogs, sold by Cuneiform Records, hit the streets last May 31.