“Speciecide,” the debut album by local Valley indie electronic/progressive rock duo Fuzz Puddle takes the existential dread of man made climate change induced mass extinction, throws in a smattering of Radiohead-influenced paranoia, and stirs that finely while adding in a pinch of ironic political humor to calm the nerves.
Across 10 songs, Fuzz Puddle is able to capture a potent sense of death anxiety — scratch that — apocalyptic anxiety, by mixing catchy progressive rock with angular melodies, collage-like avant-garde soundscapes, and a plethora of instruments that would be nearly impossible for two people to utilize during a live performance.
Having had Fuzz Puddle perform live on Valley Advocate Sessions in the past, I can say it’s quite astonishing how many different instruments and sounds the duo can blend into their songs without coming across as gimmicky.
On Speciecide, which was released Oct. 4, Fuzz Puddle ups the ante with Rob Maher on vocals, pianos, effects, theremin, and harp, and Matthew Thorton playing drums, cello, guitar, piano, banjo, trombone, thumb piano, percussion, and vocals. Plus there’s the addition of Win Ridabock, who plays fever dream flute solos. Despite the crowd of instruments, it never feels like there’s too much going on.
That said, how do the individual songs stack up? Opening the record is “Spectre at the Feast,” a progressive pop tune with a funky teeter totter bass line, XTC-ish drum fills, shimmering keys, and a catchy vocal melody that hides the existential dread imbued in the lyrics.
“Waves gonna breach the levy/ Conversations getting heavy/ Wash away the thoughts/ Steady everybody whether you’re ready or not,” Maher sings on a short chorus of the song, before going into the second verse with the opening lines, “I saw the chaos rising before me/ I saw the people panic, push, and shove.”
“Matter of Time” opens with an ever expanding high-pitched hum that grows louder with electronic percussion, and a sing-song bird-like electronic melody, before the vocals kick in with a cool jazzy bass line with a slight resemblance to Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” off 2000’s Kid A.
Throughout the song, Maher repeats the mantra “It’s in your blind spot,” as Martian sounds, trippy flute, and a plethora of other electronic soundscapes weave in and out of the piece, building tension in a nightmarish collage. That tension slightly breaks with an upbeat keyboard melody as the flute becomes ever more manic. My favorite part of this piece was the ending, which consists of a long machine hum that goes up in pitch before stopping suddenly.
Not only is the ending unexpected to listeners, creating a moody industrial setting in the mind, but by reading into it more, it seems to point to the album’s overall theme of human extinction. You hear the doldrums of industrial society go on and on until suddenly it stops, replaced by silence.
“Take Drugs Everyday,” breathes a sigh of relief for a couple minutes from climate doom, mixing politics with dry scathing wit and a touch of the absurd. “Conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans/ They take drugs everyday/ Insufferable sycophants and accredited economists/ They take drugs everyday/ Pharmaceutical grade.” Maher ironically sings as a math rock riff of guitar, pizzicato (pinched) notes, and a warbly electronic melody blend with his voice. From there, Fuzz Puddle brings a gallery of historical figures from Napoleon Bonaparte to Eleanor Roosevelt into the picture.
The song’s theme about pharmaceutical companies linked to political leaders takes a backseat towards the end of the song, as Fuzz Puddle breaks the fourth wall. Maher sings, “Random notes/ Random notes/ Sometimes/ Sound/ Right,” as trombone enters the fray.
When Maher switches up the lyrics, singing, “Random notes/ sometimes/ sound wrong,” Fuzz Puddle explodes into avant-garde noise rock with notes clashing against one another, before going back into the mathy riffs of the opening.
Later on in the record is a standout song titled, “Pretzel Knot,” which opens to atmospheric cello and piano. This piece is a departure from most of the more seriously themed songs on the record. Instead it could be described as a reluctant love song that deals in backhanded humor as an apparent coping mechanism. It’s unusual, but not unwelcome.
According to Fuzz Puddle’s Facebook page, Speciecide was three years in the making. That shows in the attention to detail in crafting this record. There’s a lot of nuanced details to the production that keep your ears guessing. Oftentimes, some weird synth line or sound effect would catch my attention, and I’d rewind the track to listen again.
If you’re a fan of Radiohead, progressive rock, or experimental music that pushes boundaries while not being afraid to show it’s political leanings, check out Fuzz Puddle’s new record. If none of these things appeal to you, I don’t know what to say, other than that you’re missing out on one of the best local records of 2019.
Chris Goudreau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send your CDs, cassettes, or vinyl to Chris Goudreau at the Valley Advocate, 115 Conz St., Northampton, MA 01060.