January 15th, 2010
For their latest album, Sir Unicorn, Madison’s The Treats have largely abandoned the bluesy hard rock riffs and boogie woogie which was so prevalent on its predecessor Reservoir Tales. This doesn’t mark a change of direction so much as a change of emphasis. With 18 tracks, there was ample room for everything including the kitchen sink on Reservoir Tales which meant that the riffing of “Ever Been Down” and “Not Enough” sat side-by-side with the sitar-laced “Blind and Undying” and the balladry of “Without a Word”. Here, the band delivers 13 songs with the amps suitably restrained and plenty of acoustic guitar.
The opening salvo, “Yahweh Won’t Look the Other Way”, was co-written by guitarist/vocalist Andrew Isham along with James Koback of Blackout Jack, who adds his guitar to other tracks on the album. Acoustic guitar moves this mid-tempo tune along with its catchy melody. A runaway banjo and some saxophone emphasize the choruses. The song demonstrates why I like Tim Payne’s bass playing so much. For much of the time he’ s essentially just playing in harmony with the guitar melody but he drops down to resolve the riff. It’s incredibly simple yet adds just a little extra color.”On”, penned by drummer Don Isham, follows with its bluesy riffing and fades out as he wails away on his drums in a Sabbath-esque jam.
In addition to “On”, the amps are turned up to 11 on “Headroom”, a slab of boogie woogie that would have been right at home on Reservoir Tales, and “The Warden” with its guitar mired in sludge that limps along like Les Claypool’s bass in “Bob”.
The rest of the album is turned over to generally quieter but carefully constructed and highly melodic tunes. “Half Asleep” sees the band treading into Buddy Holly territory while banjo returns along with mandolin on the forlorn “Help Me Now”. With piano and some aching vocals, it harkens back to Neil Young circa Time Fades Away, though not quite as doleful. Koback’s playing graces “Walk On By” which features an army of guitars that weave in and out of the rhythm – acoustic and electric.
While no song is really an epic here, “Everybody’s Got To Go Sometime” sure feels like one. It ebbs and flows and demonstrates better than any other song just how far The Treats have moved forward musically in the past couple years. The opening guitar paints a tense picture from the get-go. Drums and piano enter and fill things out as the song slowly builds in intensity. The band slows down just before the chorus strikes and then comes out the other end each time with everyone hammering on his instrument ever harder. Andrew Isham’s singing has never been as confident as it is here. Furthermore, I don’t know why Willy and Anny are pushing their fingers into their eyes or what the koala bear in the lyrics is meant to represent, if anything, but I do know that I just like the Jon Anderson meets David Lynch approach to lyrics. There’s just something strangely intriguing about “The koala wasn’t talking so she/Pushed her fingers into her eyes”.
Lastly, I posted a show by The Treats last year and it can be found here.