Monday, February 12, 2007

Here's Luck

One of the finest bands in America is one you've never heard of. They are The Honeydogs, they hail from Minneapolis, they are led by a brilliant singer-songwriter-guitarist named Adam Levy, and since 1995 they have released one smart, lush, hook-filled pop-rock record after another, each one as criminally overlooked as the last.

Although they've yet to have an outing that wasn't terrific, their absolute masterpiece was 2001's Here's Luck, a pop record that was as achingly close to perfect as it was completely ignored. It should have won them worldwide acclaim; what it got them instead was dropped by their major label. They rebounded in 2004 with the fantastic 10,000 Years, something of a concept album, and a bit hard to follow as a narrative, but packed, once again, with Levy's intricate, enigmatic, glorious pop tunes. Only their fellow artists, critics and a few die-hard fans even seemed to notice.

Well enough of that, dammit. The Honeydogs are back in 2007 with a new record, Amygdala, named for the part of the brain that regulates emotion. And while it's unlikely to reverse the pattern that has dogged them commercially -- the simple fact is that this music is just too baroque and intelligent to appeal to the masses -- it's another stunner of an album, not least because it takes Levy's impeccably crafted melodies and dense lyrical wordplay into some striking new directions, with elements of prog, punk, jazz and even the big band sound turning up here and there. "Invertebrate" and the dreamy title track, "Amygdala," showcase Levy's characteristic way with a pretty, unconventional tune and his facility with language, while "Rattling My Tin Cup" recalls Costello circa Trust, "Ms. Ketchup and the Arsonist" (on which Aimee Mann sings back-up) would have pulled your grandparents onto the dance floor at the USO hall, and "The Firing Squad Reloads" is sunny, acoustic Americana, tinged with pretty strings, but punctuated by sax breaks that sound like Ornette Coleman. And that's not even half the record. In fact, the primary thing that keeps Amygdala from reaching the heights of Here's Luck is the extent to which it comes off as more an assemblage of individual tracks than a cohesive album. But when the tracks are this consistently good, an aggressive bit of genre-hopping can be forgiven. The Honeydogs never fail to impress, and this is another worthy addition to their undeniably excellent, if largely ignored, body of work.

MP3: The Honeydogs - "Amygdala," from Amygdala

MP3: The Honeydogs (with Michael Penn) - "Test Tube Kid," from 10,000 Years

MP3: The Honeydogs - "Sour Grapes," from Here's Luck