“Everyone loves touching themselves,” says Pygmæus guitarist Cameron Taylor between songs. The truth in this bit of banter is hard to dispute, but its relation to the song he’s introducing, “Close Encounters of the Ninth Kind,” is extremely questionable. Taylor claims “Close Encounters” chronicles an invasion by some incredibly pissed-off Plutonians resentful that our scientists rescinded their homeworld’s “planet” status, but all that’s apparent from Taylor’s indecipherable howls and saxophone and trumpet player Marcus Shoults sharp horn blasts is a sense of rage that’s primitive and alien.
The interspersed segments of abstract guitar-shredding and trumpet-led fusion jazz make a compelling case that the song wasn’t originally composed for human consumption, but Pygmæus’s songwriting seems less inspired by science-fiction tropes than William S. Burroughs’ cut-up technique. Drummer Alex McBride leads the band through constant time shifts that repeat often enough to give the songs a circular structure, but almost always switch tempo before bassist Eddy Welsh has had time to establish an actual groove.
“Police Interceptor” begins with car-chase intensity before slamming on the brakes and immediately shifting to a laid-back funk coast. It shifts back 30 seconds later, while Taylor recalls an encounter with some marijuana-sniffing cops. “Fresh Tilapia” alternates a drunken sea shanty with bouncing ska segments and culminates in a sales pitch for fresh fish. “Squeeze Cheese,” with its looser horn work and danceable rhythm, might qualify as straight-up soul if it were acceptable to describe soul music as being ill-at-ease. “Polkadelic Deli” which Taylor misleadingly assures the audience isn’t about psychedelic sandwiches and their effects on the brain, offers a glimpse of the promised lederhosen, entirely through the rhythm section’s tendency to impose European dance-band tempo on Taylor’s passive-aggressive guitar freak-outs.
“Close Encounters” is thematically linked to later set list entry “KSY Pluto,” which attempts to create a bit of radio broadcasting from that titular whatever-the-hell-it’s-technically-classified-as, complete with an FCC-mandated pause for station identification. “What the fuck?” hollers an audience member in response to one of Taylor’s Plutonian outbursts. “That’s right, ‘what the fuck,’” Taylor agrees, but he’s apparently channeling reports from someplace else, where sudden time changes and incomprehensible lyrics are the least of earth’s problems. “Oh you did not just shoot that green shit at me,” he screams, outraged but visibly slime-free. The band bravely switches tempo and plays on.
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