I’ve got Cccome? in my ears!
By Peter O’Brien
Keeping up with their proclamation that “the voice of liberty shall not be mute,” “Harmonicore” quartet, Cccome? has followed up their 2007 self-titled release with an all-new auditory assault entitled Raccoon. The album was recorded at Big Orange Studio in Addison, VT back in April and released independently on May 31st of this year. Like their previous release, “Raccoon” features ten tracks, each with single word titles. Primarily based out of Burlington, VT Cccome? has, in the last two years, traveled down to NYC for a string of weekend shows and even presented their performance showcase at the Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, TN.
In the past stilt walkers, jugglers, and even a cello player have accompanied the band on stage; but that is merely the sideshow to their vaudevillian musical expedition. The focus of the show is never taken off of the band members themselves. Front man Smokey Knolls sees to it personally that when he isn’t reciting lyrics into the microphone, or blaring musical accompaniment with his arsenal of harmonicas, that he absorbs and channels the bands music through physical interpretation. He does not steal the show from the rest of his band mates, Knolls merely carries his share. Fretless bass player, Jarmac T. Harvys often plays the duration of their shows topless, wearing only a World War I infantry helmet, or a bowtie. Rounding out their rhythm section is John Stella on drums who plays with all the speed, accuracy, and intensity of young Keith Moon. The real heat of their performance comes from Meistah who shreds up and down the neck of his electric mandolin. He plays with the precision and technique that should be the envy of every metal guitarist.
It is this unique instrumental combination that gives Cccome? their distinct sound, which can only be classified as “harmonicore.” If that term is to broad then perhaps you would like to think of them as experimental, psychedelic, gypsy/drifter jazz. Knolls’ lyrical approach, as well as his vocal presentation, defies convention. They are abstract and at times indecipherable, or in French. It all adds to the surreal poetry that he preaches in verse, which is occasionally accompanied by a howl. This multi-layered approach widens the scope of their music to that of an artistic performance piece.
Remarkably their eclectic nature manages to resonate on their recordings. There is a strong consistency maintained between their two albums, although it is a little more refined on “Raccoon.” The songs at no point become redundant or stale but rather bring the band into a clearer focus and continue to define their limitless boundaries. Each song is structured so as to work within the ensemble of its composers and the unique quality they are bringing to the band. Cccome? songs are not merely an exercise in noise harnessing, which to an unskilled listener they could be construed as, but rather an exhibit in progression. Almost each song on Raccoon begins solely with one instrument (or sound) and develops into an encompassing wave of sonic fluctuation.
The first track, entitled “Wore,” begins with a rolling drumbeat that quickly builds into an up tempo musical jam before slowing down to a driving rhythm for the vocals to guide through to the end. This track is a great example of the musical niche the band is foraging because it encompasses all the elements that define the band. It establishes the musical fluidity of the members and how they are able to mesh their unique performances into one functioning, distinguishable composition. This song is also filled with musical peaks and valleys that follow the verse, chorus structure of traditional song writing.
The album itself flows very much like one of their songs, but on a much larger scale. The songs are laid out in such a way that they flow very smoothly into each other. Beginning with “Wore,” the album then moves into the very fast paced “Mutineer,” which ends very abruptly. They then shifts gears into a very somber, tranquil set of songs; each with their own wave of progression that gradually builds the album back up to a set of fast paced songs.
The first of these songs, “Down,” has a constant delay on the vocals with a steady simple drum beat driving it, giving it the feeling of a chant. This is only during what would be considered the verse of the song; there are two instrumental climaxes in this song where all the members come together and rock out. The next song, “Magnet,” escalates the overall tempo and mood of the album. The bass and mandolin play a much larger role in the guidance of this song, but it does not match the constant intensity of “Wore,” or “Mutineer.” The final song in this mini-set combines the steady, driving, delayed vocals, as on “Down,” with the constant presence of the bass and mandolin, as on “Magnet.” Almost exactly halfway through this song, “Hail,” the band reaches their collective saturation point and erupts into an intense musical jam that brings the listener’s attention with it.
The next two songs, “Oughtknot,” and “Seven,” metaphorically throw sticks of dynamite on the previous three. They are essentially straight-forward instrumental compositions, with a few incoherent lines sprinkled throughout “Oughtknot,” and a thirty second vocal reading before “Seven.” Interestingly these two songs seem to be dominated by the harmonica and mandolin respectively. From there the album eases back into a state of temporary tranquility. Songs like “Merryland” in particular show the bands ability to arrange and incorporate non-musical accompaniment within their compositions. This song also possess one of the cleanest vocal performances by Knolls, demonstrating that he can in fact sing, and well too. “Mirror” takes the band from tranquil to surreal with its warped, heavily distorted vocals. The album ends with “Boo!,” which has an elaborate buccaneer style harmonica introduction. The song quickly progresses into a rhythm driven jam highlighted by Meistah’s flailing fingers.
For what it is the album along with the band is brilliant. They completely succeed in achieving what they have set out to without falling into or succumbing to popular, or commercial clichés. As a follow up to their first album “Raccoon” definitely shows more development, confidence, and presents a stronger classification of the band. This could, in part, be attributed to the addition of John Stella on drums, which keeps the music and direction fresh. The one thing this album lacks from its predecessor is the lyrics within the cover booklet. Instead the band chose to include the complete origin of their name, which derives from a line in the E.E. Cummings poem, “May I Feel Said He.” As Knolls says at the conclusion of the album, “All in all I’d say we’ve been pretty lucky around here. Nothing to do now but wait for orders from the authorities, and relax.”
For more information visit the bands website: http://www.myspace.com/cccome