Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Higgins - zs

Higgins write songs. Higgins compose music. Higgins are performers. Higgins is a band.

My, how Higgins have grown. No really. What used to be two has now grown to six. You would think there should be the obvious signs of growing pains or the usual good and bad traits exhibited by most large families. Higgins have somehow escaped the expected and as always never do the obvious. In this day and age of studio trickery the possibilities are endless when it comes to recording sounds to tape. In most cases the magic of the ones and zeros in the digital realm expands those options to the ends of the Universe. Not so for Higgins. The band is home in the studio and the musicians interact as friends and family would. There is a mutual respect and admiration amongst the musicians and this is no better represented then by simply listening to Zs. A typical Higgins composition is complex and deep with similarities to such greats as David Axelrod, Brian Wilson, Richard Evans, and the like. Higgins get the most out of each musician because they would not have it any other way. Live they are raw and real. Raw like an exposed nerve and not like a drunken Punk band. On stage the band performs as a well oiled machine. Their performances have enough loose moments to separate studio from club. The connection the musicians have to the music and to one another is awe inspiring and is sure to send a chill down your spine. These are performances that as a musician you can only hope to one day be a part of and as a fan you know years later you will proudly detail how, you were there.

Making comparisons of one sound to another or one band to another is only useful if the listener, reader or audience know the points of reference. To make obvious comparisons to Higgins seems unfair. There is something in their sound that harks to a more professional time in the world of music. A time when all musicians were musicians and schooled or rehearsed as such. This and this alone does not make a great band. Look to the rawest and best of Punk and Garage bands and you will know that professionalism is not even last on their list of priorities but not on the list at all. No, I am talking about music performed by true artists and craftsmen who are just as concerned with the notes as they are with the arrangements. To say their music is wise beyond their years is only appropriate because we don't expect this level of quality from the pedestrian performances and complacency with levels of mediocrity that are praised now-a-days by fans and sadly critics alike. Higgins stand above all in the studio and the music halls both of which seem to long for great sounds. This is not to say that Higgins don't know what it means to be primitive. They know that raw is no more powerful than polish and can embrace the two qualities with equal understanding and finesse. A typical Higgins song is layered with sounds, instruments and vocals all of which blend together like a chef preparing a signature dish. If Higgins were painters they would be Impressionists. If they were a movie they would be Film Noir.

Zs is a journey. Zs is an expression. Zs is music and it deserves to be heard.


"There He Is"
Brian Kantor-Drums/Tambo/Shaker
Kevin Fish- Vocals/Guitar/Piano/Organ
Josh Kaufman-Guitars
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass

There is always something sweetly familiar about a Higgins song. Maybe it is the perfectly placed aggression reminiscent of bands like The Faces against the warmly laid down harmonies of so many late 60's and early 70's masters from the Raspberries to Badfinger. Maybe it is just their ability to interpret these sounds and make them their own. Many bands claim this, but fall deeply into the pit of good intentions and poor imitations. "There He Is" never loses itself in clichés and Pop trappings. Perfectly short the way a great Pop song should be and lastingly memorable.

"Always Something"
Brian Kantor-Drums/Tambo
Kevin Fish-Vocals/Guitars/Piano/Wurlitzer
Josh Kaufman-Guitar Solos
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass
Eric Jackson-Guitar Solos
Annie Nero-Cellos/First Bass Coach
Karen Waltuch-Violas
Travis Harrison-Mouse Gong

Kevin Fish can do more with his voice than most bands can with an orchestral backing. Sublime and wise beyond his years like Peter Sellers in "Being There." His words and delivery float through the compositions as a true storyteller and not just a singer songwriter (a title which is tragically thrown around and handed out far too easily). You can feel his presence around you as he walks through his life, and yours, as both observer and participant. The chorus, "There is always something to keep someone from loving me" is turned a few times to even include, " keep someone from mugging me." Our hero comes to his realization not sadly, but with full understanding that he has only himself to blame.

"Wall Of Dumb"
Brian Kantor-Drums/Tambo
Kevin Fish-Vocals/Acoustic Guitar/Piano/Wurlitzer
Josh Kaufman-Classical(30something)Guitar/Electric Guitar/Banjo
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass
Eric Jackson-Electric Guitar
Jordan Crowell-Shakers/Muted Triangle/Awesomeness

The piano intro to "Wall Of Dumb" sounds so similar to something you know that as it pulls off into unfamiliar territory your stomach drops like a ride up and down rolling hills. The rolling hills continue and so does the breeze as Mr. Fish's voice stretches to reach the top of each peak and then happily glides to the bottom as his sorts the meaning of life. Maybe not the big meaning, meant to answer all of our insecurities, but just enough to get him through another day. The band rattles along like an old car, cranked up just enough to carry him from one revelation to the next but not simply as a vehicle but also fellow passengers on this journey. To great effect the Guitars, banjos and keyboards pluck and bounce along with the broken beat of the drums and tastefully placed percussion never allowing things to become settled.

Brian Kantor-Drums/Extensive Percussion/Bongos in the style of Travis Harrison
Kevin Fish-Vocals/Wurlitzer/Piano/Synth/Wah Wah/Bass
Josh Kaufman-Banjo/Josh and Kevin's sampled voice Keyboard
Eric Jackson-Trombone/I'm Gonna take a Solo.....Guitar
Travis Harrison-Bongo Arranger
The Suffolk County Man Pipes-Group Vocals

Each subsequent track on Zs becomes more layered with sounds. The level of composition goes up and so do the chances the band takes. "Jamy" has one of the coolest intros I have ever heard. There is even a synthesized breeze to make the point more definitively and by all rights should be corny yet feels perfectly genuine. Right before the first chorus passage there is a Guitar, Electric Piano and Drum part that passes in a fraction of a second but one I can get hung up on for a lifetime. It comes again and never loses its affect. Simple, pure and soulful. It is a moment that cannot be spoken, a moment when words are not enough or maybe too much to do it justice. Somehow Banjo manages to come off just as soulful as the more obvious choices of instrumentation but then with the swirling Wurlitzer and spectacular Guitar solo it would be hard to break the mood.

"Roy G. Business"
Brian Kantor-Drums/Percussion
Kevin Fish-Wurlitzer/Vocals/Organ
Josh Kaufman-Drop D Guitar/Piano
Eric Jackson-Guitar
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass
The Suffolk County Man Pipes-Group Vocals

Somber and zombie like "Roy G. Business" lumbers in with the band. There are moments when you can feel them lose their balance as if the band is playing on the deck of a storm tossed boat. Cymbals crash and tom toms roll like the waves crashing to the deck or at times trying to roll the boat and end the misery. The Suffolk County Man Pipes drunkenly try to save their souls with a sea worthy chant. Hopelessly trying to raise the dead or alert rescuers through the darkness but sadly all is in vein. No one hears, no one is coming; all is lost and the world has gone calm.

"Yes I Know"
*Brian Kantor-Drums
Kevin Fish-Vocals/Guitar/Piano/Glockenspiel/Shakers
Josh Kaufman-Guitars
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass
Travis Harrison-Tambo

Pure Pop perfection has had its moments and nothing is more pure than "Yes I Know." You can almost hear the crowd singing along with Kevin as he repeats "I found a new way" throughout the song. The band raises the excitement and tosses us around just because they can. The singer remains grounded and determined to make sure that we know he is enjoying a moment. This is a moment of clarity and happiness, a moment of pure bliss. At these moments we are best on our own. We are no longer needy, no longer wanting. We have reached a simple state of being. Egoless. This is what a flower must feel. In typical Higgins style, mere seconds before the song concludes Mr. Kaufman treats us to just enough of a guitar solo that we are both left wanting and satisfied.

"Write It Down"
Brian Kantor-Drums
Kevin Fish-Vocals/Guitars/Bass/Organ/Wurlitzer
Karen Waltuch-Violas/Violins
Josh Kaufman-String arrangement

"Write It Down" is sentimental. Thinking of all the great things you could have said; the perfect sentiment, the timely quote or the humorous finish at the end of a thought. All the things you wish you would have said and sometimes things you should have said. Write it down, it doesn't mean any less. Sometimes it may even mean that much more. Drums drive a sharp string arrangement and lilting keys throughout. At times the voice peaks out of the darkness as if lost in thought, clouded by the possibilities to say the right thing.

Brian Kantor-Drums/Shakers/Guitar Manipulation
Kevin Fish-Vocals/Acoustic & Electric Guitars/Wurlitzer/Synths/Synth Bass & Electric Bass
Eric Jackson-Electric Guitar/Fuzz Box Amp Guitar

Fuzz Guitar threatens to shatter the gentle sounds that open "OK." The mood is mist like and airy. Eric Jackson cuts the atmosphere with layers of feedback exposing the storm that is raging inside. Brian Kantor opens up and attacks his kit as if to prove that sometimes what we think is so delicate and fragile is actually quite stable.

Prelude To A Charly"
Brian Kantor-Drums/Bass/Electric and Acoustic Guitars/Piano/4th Drum solo
Travis Harrison-Drums/Special Effects/3rd Drum Solo
Dan Crowell- Drums/Bell Riding/Fire Cracker Fills/2nd Drum Solo
Kevin Fish- 1st Drum Solo

A band is only as good as its drummer. Period. Regardless of genre. Higgins is not a good band. Higgins is a great band. What makes them so is drummer extraordinaire, Brian Kantor. Rarely on a Pop record does the drummer get to express his or her greatness in such an overt way. Not only does "Prelude To Charly" demonstrate his aggression and skill but he invites and arranges three other drummers to pound his point home. "Prelude" whirls and crashes in what can only be described as a moment of Prog Rock brilliance. Big beats coming at you from all sides, Percussion, heavy Bass and Keyboards come together as one and at times separate as if unaware of each other. You are trapped in the vortex as the musicians surround you driving you closer and closer to the edge of insanity. Suddenly the mood shifts lulling you to sleep with rim shot driven rolls and gentle piano. The nightmare or ecstatic moment, depending on your perspective, builds back up before we are dropped hard and shot through the grease.

Brian Kantor-Drums/Percussion
Kevin Fish-Vocals/Guitar Left/Guitarmonies/Flute Organ
Josh Kaufman-Guitar Right
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass
Eric Jackson-Slide Guitar
Scot Gropper-Hammond Organ

Southern Rock with a boogie base is a very good place to land after the prelude. Kantor continues his brilliant assault and the band seems very revved and ready to join him. Fish comes on like he is ten feet tall and the band have an invincible quality to their sound. The addition of Hammond Organ is a great choice and one that more new bands need to explore as it is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century. Grooving with harmonies, several slashing guitars and thunderous bass "Charly" is one bad mother-fucker. The Prog flavor is evident in the vocals but the band is all business up front and you guessed it, you know what's going on in back. The outro shows just how sharp the band can be even in territory that is not necessarily familiar to them. This is like Queen meets Black Oak Arkansas.

"Everybody (Thunder Mountain)"
Brian Kantor-Drumkit Left/Acoustic Guitars
Kevin Fish-Vocals/Acoustic & Electric Guitars/Piano/Harpsiboard
Josh Kaufman-Vocals/Acoustic Guitars/Electric Guitars/Autoharp
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass
Eric Jackson-Trombones/Electric Guitars
Jordan Crowell-Tambo
Travis Harrison-Drumkit Right
Billy Filo-Acoustic Guitars
Karen Waltuch-Violas
Meryl Joan Lammers-Flutes

Saying goodbye with a mix of what has come before is a nice way for a band to go out. "Everybody (Thunder Mountain)" combines all of what makes Higgins great and is certainly no throw away at the end of side two. By this point the band has grown to ten players all of whom complement each other as well as shine brightly. The rhythm section continues to kick up some dust, strings and flute dart back and forth avoiding the percussion and ducking cymbals while the keys challenge the bass and trombone to be heard. This is an explosive closer but after you catch your breath and begin to process what you just heard you will want to start it all over again from the beginning.

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