Ethan Andrews -The Hoxca
by Chris Gage
in the water of northern Brooklyn? With alacrity, bands
have been springing forth from that ZIP and winning headlines
worthy of bands with entire albums, not just the EPs they
got under their belts. It's common knowledge that sometime
around 1949 and 1950 there was a massive underground oil
spill in Greenpoint. That's probably not it though. But
may account for the bitter taste currently in my mouth when
I sing the Williamsburg shuffle.
While the recycled Stooges and modern-day Television that
has been burbling to the surface lately have their places
in the '90s, the bands shopping that tune don't tread new
water. They probably don't intend to, but a dose of irony
in sweatbands is overkill, not progress. However, there
are nuggets of wonder to be found in any scene, and "the
the recent release by multi-instrumental Brooklynite Ethan
Andrews, moves things forward. Don't get me wrong, this
ain't Brian Eno reinventing little Davey Jones, but it is
a far sight more daring than what Rolling Stone claims is
hip, happening, and hot.
The album opens with, oddly enough, "the hoxca,"
a churning stew of instruments anchored by a grooved drum
beat and filled with an organ and eerie moan that pulses
throughout the first half. I'm not sure I can name a lot
of what's being used to populate this music, but Tom Waits,
God love his soul, always reminds me of the instruments
he uses, while Andrews discards their quirkiness and rewards
the listener with an orchestration not centered on any one
device. "The hoxca" is a sample and meringue of
an instrumental: it froths and pulses and moans and moves
to its conclusion with handclaps and cheering crowds. It
sets the stage perfectly for what's to come in the rest
of the album by introducing us to the sonicness of the many
coexisting mechanisms Andrews uses and his orderly disregard
From here the album moves into a barroom piano shuffle
called "the twilight sleep" that bounces as much
as it bites. It's a call-to-arms song that bellows "can
you feel your luck coming back like a fucking stranger?"
and contains in-and-out lyrics like "something I said
is making me think I got something to say" and then
drives on and on like a free-range roadtrip to its inevitable
wind-down conclusion. What's interesting here is that "the
twilight shuffle" contains a channeled anger (or perhaps
braggadocio) coated in self-criticism. The swing of it,
though, keeps it agitated, not the lyrics.
The majority of the album contains similarly impressive
piano work as "the twilight sleep." And everywhere
the playing is fluid and moves across genres midsong like
a gull slipping on the aforementioned oil. When artists
attempt styles, the fabrication shows through (as in this
review). (Think of the Rolling Stones disco moments.) Andrews
appears wary of this, and the songs contain the hint of
a period-just enough before dancing back into the present.
Andrews here plays all the instruments, as well as handling
the lyrics and singing. It's impressive when you think of
the restraint one must exhibit to do this. The tendency
would be to 1) wank away on whichever instrument you were
best at or 2) to get caught up in the deafening roar of
your own wonderfulness. But with a mellow organ pumping
out a lullaby or a tap-tap on the cymbal, Andrews demonstrates
that he is beholden to the song not his prowess-considerable
though it may be. (The little oooh ahhs peppering "the
twilight sleep" tug at me gut every time.)
The highlights of this disc to my ears would be "milk
truck" where Andrews' voice is sweet and endearing
as it rides over a mellow '70s-Dylan groove and he stands
on a chair to reach the high notes to sing "shaking
my head when I coulda been shaking anything [pause] from
the station back to the town." It's a good demonstration
of Andrews' rawness: his hands move across the guitar's
neck; the natural reverb of the room he recorded in; the
strain of his voice. The other highlight, "mayapple,"
is the song Radiohead should have written. It crescendos
to the beat of a bass drum and an orchestral swarm of violins
and a completely unironic set of la la las. It's a darn
impressive feat that Andrews managed to mesh the organic
and the synthetic into such a pleasurable instrumentation.
And that's the key to a lot of this album. He doesn't seem
to believe in any one thing; there appear to be few limitations
to building a song. If the song wants to be sung in half
in French, so be it. If it wants Casio keyboards, so be
it. If it wants to go clink, clank, clunk, okay to that
too. Sometimes songs want to be things you don't agree with,
and Andrews has the foresight to let them. Only once does
this organic style not pan out: "here comes the whip,"
with its repetitive guitar rocking is a dead spot, perhaps
because he didn't push it hard enough. Don't want to make
excuses, but maybe it's all the song wanted. It lacks the
natural complexity of the rest of the album and though the
lyrics shine ("Kept my fingers in the finest things
/ never did get those") it doesn't aspire (or inspire)
in the same way.
When I read out about the Greenpoint oil spill, it was
compared to the Exxon Valdez spill. Obviously, people like
context. And record reviews are the same: a series of measurements:
"It's as good as this" and "It sounds like
that." I'm not interested in a five-star rating system.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but when Tom Waits came
out with "Swordfish Trombones" (or Faith No More
with "Angel Dust") you suddenly had to wonder
what to do with the earlier recordings. What "the hoxca"
makes me want to know is, what has Ethan Andrews been doing
up until this point?