Lousy Robot plays power pop wherein the power isn’t always obvious. The songs are catchy but front man Jim Phillips’ lyrics bite harder than the music might lead you to believe. In other words, come for the hooks, stay for the poetry. It’s like buying a box of sugarcoated cereal and finding that the free prize inside is a weather-beaten diamond ring: It doesn’t need polishing and, like a battered “Antiques Roadshow” rarity, the appraisal would drop if the treasure were cleaned up.
Originating as the minimalist but striking Hey, Dandee! in 2003, the band has since stepped up its production values. Lousy Robot’s winningly modest debut The Strange and True Story of Your Life. was followed by the more complex Smile Like You Are Somewhere Else. The latest release, Hail The Conquering Fool (produced by long time associate John Dufilho of The Deathray Davies and The Apples In Stereo), is by contrast a rabid pop behemoth.
“We really did whatever the hell we wanted,” Phillips says. “We did several mixes of the songs and generally chose whichever one was most shocking. The ones that really stood out.”
The band recorded all the tracks and passed it on to Dufilho “with virtually no direction.”
“We sent him everything,“ Phillips continues. “Noise, everything. He would then take what we had and develop a mix. Or mixes. And send it back. It was great not knowing what you were going to hear.”
Dandee Fleming’s bass lines are unassuming, offered as a surrender in service of the song. That doesn’t mean he’s merely thumping away in four-bar timing. Fleming creatively accents the melody in a way that’s reminiscent of a deft drummer’s fills.
Keyboardist Jack Moffitt had never played in a band before joining Lousy Robot five years ago, but his sound gains prominence with every show. Moffitt approaches his instrument as he does his day job developing innovative freeware and code: He’s a monster.
Although the fine pop drums of Ben Levine can be heard on the album, he’s since vacated his seat. Performing live with the band now is the versatile Joey Gonzales who can play any kind of music with any kind of band and never come off like a session hack. Even people who don’t pay attention to drummers watch Gonzales.
There’s a direct correlation between how long Phillips’ hair gets and how much he rocks on guitar. Happily, he hasn’t been to the barber in a while. Phillips’ brooding vocal delivery is in sharp contrast to his heartbreakingly sweet melodies. The band’s overall bright sound is outstanding but the lyrics go for the gut. How can deluded self-affirmation in the face of abject longing sound so appealing?
Joining Lousy Robot at both shows is Denver’s Dressy Bessy. Think pop psychedelia as if The Dave Clark Five joined the Elephant 6 Collective with the Olivia Tremor Control hollering encouragement from backstage.
At Corazón, pop-punk purveyors of pulchritude Pan!c will make no affectation to sweetness but instead be a raucous palate cleanser.
Joining the bill at Low Spirits is Jenny Invert, whose chimera-like theatrical pop would lend itself to flamboyant and grand costume changes.
The icing on the Albuquerque cake is the solo acoustic rock of our beloved Kimo, who will act as Mistress of Ceremonies and cover selected songs of the other bands. She’s a local treasure who’s gigged these parts for almost 20 years. So why isn’t she more appreciated here? Listen carefully and you’ll ponder that injustice yourself.