OH THE HUMANITY! POSSIBLY THE LAST CHRIS ARDUSER SOLO ALBUM EVER!

The new and possibly last solo album from BouleBlog favorite Chris Arduser. Cover photo courtesy Crooked Mile Records.

The new and possibly last solo album from BouleBlog favorite Chris Arduser. Cover photo courtesy Crooked Mile Records.

Long since the inception of this blog, which started through Princeton Record Exchange, I have enjoyed reviewing Chris Arduser’s work in order to put him in front of the popular view. Since discovering him with the Bears (featuring Adrian Belew) I have really enjoyed Arduser’s contribution to the Bears work as well as with the psychodots, including long-time bandmates Bob Nyswonger and Rob Fetters. But not only his work in bands such as the Bears and psychodots, Arduser on his own has quite a collection of solo albums, the last of which Hapless, was reviewed by this intrepid blogger for the Princeton Record Exchange (it may also appear as a Friday Flashback on this very blog).

There does appear with one overshadowing rumor with this release, that rumor being that this will be the last Chris Arduser solo album. If this does prove true I can only put this in the category of tremendous tragedy. Arduser’s solo albums have brought me many joyful hours, and I feel if they had gotten greater circulation throughout the music community nationwide, hell, worldwide, he would be a much bigger act then he is now. Not that he’s a nobody. Arduser is one of the biggest names in the Cincinnati music area especially when it comes to percussion. Basically if you’re in the Midwest he’s your go-to guy if you want a session drummer with killer chops. But he’s not just a drummer. I have personally witnessed Arduser play mandolin live with the Bears, and on his solo albums often times he’ll play each and every instrument you would hear; mandolin, keyboards, bass, guitar, drums and some instruments one might not expect from a “pop” musician.

Yet Arduser, always ready to throw a monkey wrench into the sound has come up with some very intriguing noises on the new release called Flibbertigibbet. How’s that for a monkey wrench of a title? I think it’s time we dug into Chris Arduser’s latest offering and sit back and enjoy the strangeness!

Arduser 3

Arduser relinquishing drum duties for mandatory mandolin mastery with the Bears in Philadelphia during the Car Caught Fire tour. Photo courtesy Coming Age archive.

 

Flibbertigibbet starts off with a track called “Stalling”. As you would expect it’s an archetypical song about procrastination. But of course Arduser has his own spin on it. First of all the tune starts off with a very vivid series of chord blasts! The first verse vocal comes right in after that. But all the instruments drop off after those chord blasts leaving Arduser’s vocal alone with an acoustic guitar. Our world-weary narrator sings of being tired of being left in the dark. In fact the entire first verse is acoustic guitar only to showcase Arduser’s narrator being a less than trustworthy soul. Full instruments at this point. And in the line I really identify with, Arduser says he doesn’t need help with his troubles they can take care of themselves!

One verse in and this is already a twisted tale.

A dreamy half-tempo bridge describing the narrator’s mired position, and then some explosive instrumentation (including some really snappy snare drum work) brings us into a chorus. At this point it is tremolo happy!

Irony time in the second verse as Arduser asks ‘what good’s a voice if you don’t have words to say?’… This reminds me I need to address Arduser’s trademark, patented angelic backing vocals. It seems that Arduser has come along way from just being the little drummer boy in the Bears to being a full-blown vocal arranger-instrumentalist-producer. It seems all that time spent around Fetters and Nyswonger, and to a lesser extent Belew has rubbed off on Arduser… In a good way!

At this point Arduser varies the bridge to double it up and include intermittent guitar solos amongst the vocal lines. The dynamic is stunted with a single chord strum of the acoustic guitar and we’re back to just vocal and that acoustic guitar.

Another sparse verse about Arduser detesting the sound of his own voice and attempting to sway an intoxicated magistrate into thinking that Arduser ne’er-do-well narrator is not as ne’er-do-well as it seems. Also interjecting some very interesting paradoxes about the narrator’s personality. Then back to that extended, half tempo bridge with even more explosive drums into yet another chorus, but this time it brings it to the end. The heightened dynamic at the end is even further enhanced by Arduser adding those angelic backing vocals and mimicking the bridge. The end is a tremolo guitar fading out on a held cord.

That faded tremolo guitar washers in track two, which is “Wake Up Screaming”. Featuring one of the more imaginative rhythm parts on this album, a shell tom is ridden along with a very slippery bass guitar played by Bob Nyswonger. It makes one picture tango dance floor. Arduser even steals one of Todd Rundgren’s production techniques; guitar on the left channel track keyboards on the right. After a verse that describes what sounds like being thrown into prison, very unlikely bridge comes up. Almost dream-like in composition. The dreamy chorus seems to describe how Arduser won’t let his dreams send him back to the grave. It’s tough to decipher the vocals are a little under-mixed for this part. Although you could definitely hear Nyswonger’s bass as he’s ‘lead guitared’ it all the way up the neck of the instrument. Then back to the tango verse two. This verse features Arduser’s 30’s sensibility in that he’s on display at a freak show and the cost of admission is a nickel.

Remember Arduser wrote an album, The Celebrity Motorcade that was pretty much dedicated to the life and times of Fatty Arbuckle.

We go back to that dreamy chorus but this time the vocal is far louder than it was the first time around so we get a better idea of the lyrical concept Arduser is trying to put forth.

The third verse is more or less repetition for Arduser, ‘how much longer can it last?’ he asks. But there are new ambient sounds being added into the third verse to pep up the dynamic as well as make for a very eerie loop ending.

A fade up intros “Empty City”. Right away it kicks into a really snappy rhythm section. There’s even a bit of reversed guitar before the vocal kicks in! The distorted vocals talk about a vacation in Bahrain. Definitely a number one tourist destination…

Yet another half tempo bridge describing the sparseness of Arduser’s surroundings, but for this bridge of backing vocals take on different harmonic formation. Gotta love the tom-tom beat on this section.

Little drummer boy Arduser in Allentown PA during the Rise And Shine tour. Photo courtesy the Coming Age archives.

Little drummer boy Arduser in Allentown PA during the Bears Rise And Shine tour. Photo courtesy the Coming Age archives.

From the lyrics of the second verse, you can tell this is pretty much in a diatribe against all things Middle Eastern. Princes promenading in style, wealth bubbling up from the ground, so on.

After another half tempo bridge and a minor guitar solo there’s a vocal bridge, which features kind of a tremolo vocal singing the title. This repeats twice, with the second go round including Nyswonger adding a higher register on the bass to cue the end.

I had to double and triple check the liner notes… I know George Cunningham played additional guitar on the tracks one and two, but if Arduser’s playing all the guitars on this track, he’s really come a long way with his guitar playing!

A French phrase leading to a short fade up intros “Dark Dream”. A slower, ballad tempo ushers in some lovely female backing vocals provided by Rosie Carson. A plucked rhythm guitar constantly accompanies Arduser’s lyrics about his evil deeds haunting him in his sleep for at least a week. I have to say the structure of this song is extremely intelligent and mature. Not to mention the killer back beat on the bass drum for the standard drum part. Then when the structure rejoins as it’s about to start over again, an impressive press roll on the snare drum to guide it in.

We are revisited by the lovely backing vocals. In what I can only assume is verse two, Arduser attempts to negotiate with his nocturnal intelligentsia. The over-thinkers might even say this is his way to represent a female relationship. I’ll take Arduser’s lyrics at face value.

The structure is cued upon by swelling guitars and swirling keyboards, the guitar cuing when the bridge is coming up, the keyboards are part of the chorus. This is a soundscape song if ever I’ve heard one, right down to the shaker on the 16th notes portraying the second hand of the clock ticking the night away.

A volume swell guitar and some Kasim Sulton treble bass along with the lovely backing vocals usher away the song.

Flanged and picked guitar melody opens up “One Girl Show”. A rowdy rock anthem with bust-a-hump drums blow open the song to describe one girl as she lives a life of regret. An up tempo answer to Hapless’ “Poor Suzette” perhaps? The first verse describes a dress, black, revealing, and designed to induce lust in one gender, jealousy in another. A clever play on words, ‘that dress is a one girl show’.

We up to a key change section, still detailing the dress as a symbol of despair. Then another key change section that climbs along with the repeat of the line ‘Last night was yes today is no’ right along to the end which features a tremolo arm bend downward of one woeful guitar chord.

Here are some interesting trivia about “One Girl Show”: Often times Arduser is mistakenly credited as the drummer for the Raisins, another Nyswonger/ Fetters band. The lineup for the Raisins is: Rob Fetters, guitar, Rick Neiheisel, keyboards Bob Nyswonger bass, and Bam Powell on drums. This is there most often referred to lineup. Arduser was in the band originally, as was keyboardist Tom Toth. (Thanks to City Beat’s Brian Baker for that info.) The lyrics for “One Girl Show are credited to both Arduser and Powell. Nice that they can get along to write a song.

A brushed snare intro along with acoustic guitar melody breaks open “Not Falling”, which, as can you imagine, details the reluctance of the narrator to fall for someone. Their pranks, their wiles, or anything they may want to induce. Arduser’s narrator readily admits that while he will indulge the person once or twice a week, an overall commitment is not to be had.

At this point the rhythm section switches it up to be a little more powerful and with that powerful rhythm section comes the powerful confession that Arduser’s narrator can’t afford the emotional cost of the prankster!

The track is filled with colorful transitions from section to section now we rejoin back to the brush snare section for a verse rejoinder. This verse is tough. It talks about ex-boyfriends wanting to talk, and the narrator winding up in the prankster’s bed with a bottle of gin.

We’ve all been there right?

It’s at this bridge point where the narrator realizes enough is enough; the sentiments are accompanied by a nasty flanged guitar. Including another change to signify the end. There are so many ideas in this song it’s a wonder it’s not four separate songs on the disc.

A bustling, hurried beat and giddy-up guitars break into “Big Blonde Mistake”. With a title like that and the opening line ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere and about time’, you know this song is trouble. As the libation hits the protagonist’s lips, he is alcoholically transformed back to a time when he was engaged in a big blonde mistake.

Huge wall of backing vocals reiterates big blonde mistake.

Verse two absolves his friends, even though they warned him not to engage in said mistake. All the while the rhythm section just giddy-ups down the line. It’s amazing that Arduser can maintain this kind of energy, track after track, overdub after overdub.

Another wall of backing vocals…

A break in the form of ascending chords, with the lyric detailing your average, deteriorating relationship. Then that wall of backing vocals one more time. Okay make that two times. With a hold cord after the second time for good measure.

Next up is a traditional track, “In Heaven Sitting Down”, co-arranged by Arduser and Robert Wilkins featuring Bob Nyswonger on bass. Nothing much to see here other than a nice sidestick snare drum part on the percussion end from Arduser. Right before the bass solo there is a nice falsetto note from Arduser. Mandolin brought in to flush out the bass solo section too.

And organ melody played twice ushers in “Stayed Too Long”. Lyrics about staying too long at the fair and flying in his sleep… I want to know what fairs Arduser goes to!

The chorus with its lead guitar and mandolin features, detail staying to hear a siren song.

Having captured the affections of the red-haired siren Arduser is confused about what to make of her weaponry. They don’t call him Deathy for nothing…

Deathy Arduser loving his work during the Car Caught Fire tour with the Bears. Photo courtesy Coming Age archive.

Deathy Arduser loving his work during the Car Caught Fire tour with the Bears. Photo courtesy Coming Age archive.

The second chorus both builds dynamic and leads into a change. The change discusses how the siren is going to hand off her pistol to Arduser yet he is entrapped by the fairground police. What? Police entrapping someone? Happen in free America? In this day and age? Nnnnnnnaaaaaahhhhhhh…

Overall, the change has a lovely, almost calliope/carousel feel. Back to that organ intro, but then into a variation on the chorus. We end after multiple repeats of ‘stayed too long’ to a hold note.

Some world-style percussion opens “Sharyn”. Yet another of Arduser’s tragic tales of life lost too soon. Madolin and acoustic guitar battle a tad before the reminiscent lyric begins. Details of an adolescent romance are spilled. Arduser dates himself with the reference to the early 70s.

A change remarks about how Arduser had a dalliance with an older sister. Uh-oh…

Again Rosie Carson is brought into embellish the vocals on the wistful chorus, reminiscing about the titular character.

The next verse compares our dues there’s a long-haired freak narrator to our long legged tomboy Sharyn. The world-style percussion has pretty much calmed itself down to an almost nautical feel.

The change comes around again, lamenting the fact that Arduser thought with an organ much further south of his brain.

Wistful chorus again, this time lamenting Arduser’s hesitation. Yet towards the end of the break there’s something brewing on the horizon… A change denoting a meeting at a car show and a tragic, tragic end to the titular character.

Back to the wistful chorus, with the lyric line harkening back to Arduser’s “One More Crooked Mile” from the Hostage album. Arduser vocal ad-libs the title of the song to the end.

Next up is a Ray Davies cover, “Too Much On My Mind”. As I am not that much of a Kinks fan, not much of a fan at all, frankly, I don’t really have a frame of reference to compare this to. So I won’t! For me, the best feature of this song is a reuniting of the psychodots with Rob Fetters and Bob Nyswonger. But along with those two, Chuck Mauk plays drums and Charlie Fletcher assists with the vocal. Furthermore, E.J. Wells is listed as a second bass player. Oh, well, if Spinal Tap can have three bass players on one track…

We wrap up the disc with “In Good Time”. A brush shuffled snare drum and organ intro the song, some arpeggiated acoustic guitar thrown in to set the scene. A lazy song, about meandering and imbibing. When considering whether or not to conclude the boredom battling ‘jaunt’, Arduser’s patented wall of backing vocals utter the title’s reply.

The second verse details a metaphorical hole, or in Deathy terms, a grave. Seriously, what do you expect from a guy who forms a band with George Cunningham, Bridget Otto, and himself and calls the band Graveblankets? (Check them out, good stuff!)

Once deep enough, he implores the powers that be to show him the way, and those powers answer with the title again. Those angelic vocals.

A change questions the power of the world, the power of life, the lever.

A tasteful bass solo from Nyswonger brings in the third verse. Detailing that Arduser isn’t quite done wrapping up the deets on his lifespan. But all too quickly those angelic stacked vocals come at us again. ‘All in good time’ we are assured. Repeated with trusty mandolin rising in the mix. A mini bass solo brings us out to some wavering sounds.

And that’s it.

This song as well as the disc ends far too quickly for me, for if this is the last solo effort from Arduser, then we had better see more output from psychodots, Graveblankets and especially the Bears. With Adrian Belew being monikered too weird for Nine Inch Nails and too modern for Fripp’s new (and boring) madrigal King Crimson, I could totally get behind (that’s a jab at you William Shatner fans) a new Bears product.

Until then, I have several psychodots albums to purchase, and several Graveblankets albums as well, and a little solo ditty from the bass clef maestro Bob Nyswonger as well as some Bucket CDs…

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