CD REVIEW: Mike Keneally – Scambot 1

I’ve found it really hard to write about Scambot. I really should have done so months and months ago when the album was released. But man, this album hit me so personally and deeply that to talk about it almost feels like opening up to a stranger about a relationship or something. But ok, here goes.

Scambot 1, as the name may imply, is the first in a series of albums about a chap called SCAMBOT (Serial Consciousness Agent [Military division] – Bringer Of Truth). The story still has much to play out (although the CD booklet is an invaluable part of the experience), and when the whole project is done there will be a graphic novel to fill out more of the narrative. At the moment I think of the music as snippets from the soundtrack of a movie I haven’t heard.

This film analogy extends beyond such a literal interpretation of the music’s rightful place in the world though. For me Scambot evokes that feeling of channel surfing late at night and finding something exotic and bizarre yet highly emotional and fulfilling. Llistening to Scambot 1 reminds me of watching the Zagreb Films retrospective at the Melbourne International Animation Festival last year. It’s hard to pin down, but the music and even lyrics feel like they speak to me in another language I don’t understand, yet break through this imaginary language barrier to communicate via feelings instead (regardless of the lyrical content which I of course do understand). Obviously I’ve been emotionally affected by music before or I wouldn’t have an entire blog, if not life, devoted to it, but man, Scambot grabs me good.

So what does the music sound like? Well for me it’s kind of like an amalgam of some of the more contemplative moments of Keneally’s Boil That Dust Speck, Sluggo and Nonkertomph albums – that kind of Radiohead-meets-Zappa blend of emotion and complexity that Keneally always does so well (and listen for some deliciously subtle playing by longtime Keneally cohorts such as Bryan Beller, Joe Travers, Marco Minnemann, all of whom turn in spectacular performances). One of the charms of Scambot, and it can be said of Nonkertomph too, is that it can become hard to pin down exactly what is the main instrument of the song, to the point where you suddenly have the stunning revelation that, duh, the entire song is the main instrument. This ain’t no straight guitar-bass-drums-vocal thing. The orchestration is deep, real deep, and if you’re used to listening to a standard band format it can be kinda hard to find your ‘in’ with Scambot. But once you do, you’re gonna wanna curl up in there like a warm kitten.

Personal highlights for me are in the little details. The melody from Life’s Too Small playing under the opening snippet of a cooking show about how to prepare rectangles in Big Screen Boboli. The ‘My arm is doing that wiggly wiggly beckoning finger thingie at me’ section of Tomorrow, which has the power to instantly lift my day. The ‘If I get ambitious I’ll work on the dishes’ bit from Cat Bran Sammich Pt. 1. The Berlin-era-Bowie-esque urgency of Cat Bran Sammich Pt. 2. The gentle wah wah touches in Hallmark. The push-pull interplay of the guitar overdubs in Saturate. The CSNY-ish harmonies of ‘Cold Hands’ (a song my 3-year-old loves to bits). And Gita. My god, Gita!

Mike Keneally’s music can be an acquired taste so if you’ve never checked out his particular and peculiar talents, maybe you should start with Sluggo! or Guitar Therapy Live. But if you’re tuned in to where Mike’s taking us on this incredible journey, or if you have an affinity for music that taps into something a little deeper than 4/4, you need to make room in your life for Scambot.

By the way, if you can spare the $$$, check out the Special Edition, which includes Songs & Stories Inspired By Scambot 1, an entire second disc of music which goes deeper into the storyline while pursuing myriad musical tangents for your personal amusement. Already I couldn’t imagine Scambot 1 without the bonus disc and booklet – it makes the experience even more rewarding and immersive.

CLICK HERE to buy Scambot 1.