Finn’s Motel | Escape Velocity (Scat)

A work betwixt and between, it disdains the multiple-single approach of most releases without quite cohering into an indisputable whole.

 


Escape Velocity
from Finn's Motel inspires caution precisely to the degree to which it feels so accommodating sonically.

That aesthetic dissonance, funnily enough, numbers among the merits of this 17-track Scat Records release. In this age of American Idolatry, when MySpace, almost overnight, has become the world's biggest crawlspace, too much popular music-even more than usual, in fact-stinks of homogeneity, a sedative stimulant designed solely to foster adolescent romanticism or to make the masses wag their asses.

Without scanting musicality, Escape Velocity, in contrast, aims higher, and depending on one's perspective, either the credit or the blame for that aim should focus on the proprietor of Finn's Motel, St. Louis guitarist/vocalist Joe Thebeau, described by the flak sheet as "a 40 year old married-with-children rock guy." With percussionist Patrick Hawley, bassist Steve Scariano, and others, Thebeau has here crafted a suite of songs that rewards attention even as it demands same.

In that wise, of course, the disc's title should prove instructive. In the argot of rocketry, escape velocity means "the minimum speed an object must have to free itself from the gravitational pull of a body." Thematically, much of Thebeau's CD counterposes the hope of zero-G and the fear of a crash landing. Therein, too, may lie the rub of Escape Velocity. A work betwixt and between, it disdains the multiple-single approach of most releases without quite cohering into an indisputable whole. Despite their appeal, that is, various tracks ("Concord Village Optimist Club," say) fit the disc's theme like ice on an O-ring and introduce irregularities into its trajectory. As a result, something like "Exit Strategy Failed," which just tops a minute and which Thebeau probably intends less as a song per se than as an intermezzo, at first feels underdeveloped, perfunctory, and the sonic seethe of the closing "Universal Hum," on which he samples a NASA transmission in a bit of black-body audacity, may leave inattentive listeners wondering if his gantry goes all the way to the top.

Perhaps Thebeau was straining to avoid the sci-fi daffiness of some prog-rock. If so, more power to him. In any event, he deserves praise alike for his artistry and for his brainiac temerity on offerings like "Eero Saarinen" and "Of Cycles and Engines." Moreover, with the eighth track, "Hangover in an Aging Suburb," the arc of his effect coincides in a painful way with the angle of his intent, echoing a sentiment from the Russian poet Andrei Voznesenski: "Along a parabola life like a rocket flies,/Mainly in darkness, now and then on a rainbow." On that down-tempo acoustic number, Thebeau sings, "It's been years since the party was over," and its sad fragility sounds at once grounded and heavenly.

RIYL: Magnolia Summer, Waterloo

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