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Saturday, September 06, 2008

CD Review: Bigelf - Cheat the Gallows

Bigelf - Cheat the Gallows
2008 Custard
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



If there's one album that's created the most buzz this writer's heard in the underground this year, it's by far Bigelf's Cheat the Gallows, and it comes with good reason. No, make that excellent reason.

Though the eighties presents a threshhold of collectively influential groups and musicians, the seventies have come to bear abundant musical fruit decades later as the sheer bravado of thundering arena rock is the stuff of legend, a legend that has affected many newer groups of the 2000s who operate in a music scene that yields very little of the larger-than-life boom found in the seventies and eighties. Looking back at things, the seventies embody the last truly great era for pop, soul and country (particularly since those sanctions largely blow chunk monkeys today), and while most people below the age of 30 have no idea who Gordon Lightfoot is, much less 10CC or Paper Lace, there's undeniably a fascination with period throwback. Then again, when you manage to embody a Who's Who list of seventies power rockers with a detonative effect checked by swimming strings and keys, and an underlying Beatles and Britpop sensation to it all, then dipsie doodle all you want, for Christ's sake!

If Bigelf are close to The Beatles, in particularly the rock 'n roll innovation begot by Sgt. Peppers, then Bigelf would actually be more akin to the seventies schmaltz film featuring Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees, though thanks be to God Bigelf possesses nothing of the latter's gaudy shamelessness. Still, Cheat the Gallows is perhaps what should've come in place of that celluloid travesty since Bigelf are inherently a grandiose big theater rock interpretation of The Beatles, along with many classic rock constituents such as Alice Cooper, Queen, The Doors, Kiss, Golden Earring, Electric Light Orchestra, Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Boston and even vintage Elton John.

Cheat the Gallows is unabashedly technical, preposterously zany at times (for all the evidence you need, have a go with the eleven-minute-plus "Counting Sheep") but high and large, it plays itself to the tune of early seventies Alice Cooper meets later year Beatles, even as the album high kicks to its circus dance motif on "Gravest Show On Earth," "No Parachute" and "Blackball."

While Bigelf's single "Money, It's Pure Evil" and "The Game" are spirited in a Lenny Kravitz rock and soul revisionist fashion (largely since vocalist Damon Fox has no trouble striking some of Lenny's higher and smoother octaves), they are addictive songs that keep the largely shambling pace of Cheat the Gallows moving tunefully, while "Superstar" mockingly undermines whatever purpose Bigelf is trying to establish from its intentionally bubblegum nature and snicker-filled lyrical jibes.

What's so cool about Bigelf is listening to hear as many different tones, riffs and tempo switches as they can cram into one song (since these guys layer their plate better than authentic Italian lasagne) like the almost hilarious "The Evils of Rock 'n Roll" where they wallow in a psychedlic dopesmoke before stamping off with a monster rock groove that screams of Deep Purple, complete with organ smashes and a Blackmoresque mega riff and solo section. Or listen to the way "Blackball" sways in thundering swishes between the methodic rockout punch of the song before switching to a jazzy Floydian breakdown that even accommodates for some interloping sax. It's as if someone decided to cram Dark Side of the Moon with Alice Cooper's Love it to Death and capped the bastardized creation with a blistering Edgar Winter-reminiscent solo. And "Hydra?" Let yourself be your guide, whew...

Like The Dark Knight, Bigelf far exceeds the hype surrounding them and though there's a heavy dash of cheekiness beneath their burning seventies-adored rawk fest, Cheat the Gallows is the must-hear event of the year.

Rating: ****1/2

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