I lived in the South for 16 years, called northern New Mexico home for a while, and have listened to pop music for as long as I can remember. These three aspects of my life harmonized during an exploration of Todd and the Fox. Todd Eric Lovato—the man behind acts like Felonious Groove Foundation, Skinnyfat and Fantastic Planet—has spent the last two years creating this self-titled debut album. It's a lush recording, and his pride in the work is instantly apparent.
Lovato says he wanted to create something different, in the vein of Brian Eno. “I wanted to create music for music lovers, because I [usually] make music to please myself,” he says, his voice shaking with excitement. “This record is an evolution of all of my past ideas. I found my voice in there.” One of the standout tracks is “Amanda.” It's a darkly graphic song about a young woman’s murder with twists and turns like a Raymond Chandler story. All the complex storytelling is layered on top of sophisticated but playful grooves.
Lovato plays banjo, guitar, bass pedals and Ableton Live (a program for looping digital sequences) while Erik Sawyer mans the drums. Lovato formed the band in 2011 to further explore economical songwriting, especially on the banjo. It’s the instrument that catches your ear on so many of these songs.
The word “minimalist” gets tossed around to describe these songs. Foolishly, I thought I knew what to expect, but I couldn’t agree less with that description. Lovato's open-tuned banjo creates a drone that sounds ancient, beautifully compelling and just a little tragic. You could dig at the compositions for a long time and not get to the bottom of every note, phrase and lyric. They're sometimes incredibly warm, sometimes twisted. The band is more front porch than noisy club. More living room than auditorium. The album is earthy, but you can still dance to it. A very Southern word, “lawd,” popped out of my mouth on my first listen.
The group first debuted the album in South Korea, and the reception was warm. They also performed at SXSW this year, and even received an invitation to play at the World Intangible Culture Festival in Gangneung, South Korea, alongside acts like Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Oakhurst and Gregory Alan Isakov. At their home state album release party, expect surprises from some of Lovato’s closest musical collaborators: Cali Shaw, Alex Maryol, Zack Freeman and Española’s self-described “gonzo roots” purveyors The Imperial Rooster.