The Majestic Twelve | Schizophrenology (Pandora’s Legacy)

He follows with a classic rock 'n' roll scream, a killer moment in a classic song.


cd_maj12Some call it a "brain tingle": a particular moment in a song when everything comes together in such a startling, emotionally satisfying manner that your brain literally tingles with joy or rapture. That's more evocative than simply referring to the "climax" of a song, don't you think? I pondered this while listening to the Majestic Twelve's new disc Schizophrenology. The brain tingle occurs three and a half minutes into "Thank God Everything on TV Is a Lie," a potently catchy tune that perfectly weds ska, rap, and indie rock elements to politically scornful lyrics.

Vocalist/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Kenyata Sullivan delivers a couple of seething verses aimed squarely at the Daily Show generation, the music shifts gears for a bit, then Sullivan goes for broke on verse three: "I'm inquisitive and questioning, I'm thinking and I'm free/I'm not one of you or one of them, I'm one of me/I'm not in either party, both sides are illegit/I figured out that all of you are completely full of shit!" He follows with a classic rock 'n' roll scream, anchored by both the song's infectious rhythm and some melodically soothing background vocals. It's a killer moment in a classic song, the sort of thing many groups never achieve.

The Majestic Twelve aren't exactly prolific; their only previous recording was 2002's Searching for the Elvis Knob. But Sullivan was part of a thriving underground scene in the early '90s. His Pandora's Lunchbox cassette label introduced artists such as Spoon, Britt Daniel, and Conor Oberst to the public. Sullivan comes across as a fierce individualist with no time for phoniness or music biz manipulations, but he has a canny knack for blending humor and heart in just the right amounts. He's also got himself a fantastic rhythm section: drummer Anthony Cribb and bassist Michael D'Alessandro work foot-stompin' wonders on these 11 tracks.

"Condoleeza, Check My Posse" is another classic with a retro '80s new wave feel but up-to-the-minute lyrics; the song peaks hilariously with a contrapuntal chorus of voices singing "Ann Coulter! Rush Limbaugh! Sean Hannity!" If that don't get your liberal groove on, baby, nothin' will. "Cry" is a more straightforward rocker with some atmospheric guitar work (and it's credited to the entire band); Sullivan also offers a couple of tender ballads to even things out. But it's the politically charged stompers that make the biggest impact: "American Rage" expresses just that in no uncertain terms, and Dubya soundbites crop up in the ska-flavored raveup "Are You Ready?" Sullivan's passionate-and as disgusted as any conscientious citizen oughta be these days. But he's not here to proselytize. "When things are fallin' apart/Gotta keep your body moving if the news is getting' dark," he sings on the latter tune. That means both dancing and staying motivated/informed enough to care.

This cool surprise of an album encourages those two often opposing responses with equal emphasis. It's a schizophrenic age, and Schizophrenology is an album that acknowledges that with steely eyes, cathartic humor, and life-affirming rhythms.

RIYL: Oingo Boingo, The Call, Madness

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