I was not introduced to Troubled Hubble until the summer of 2002, even though they have been going at it since late ’99. My first experience with them was at an odd show in Omaha (I’ve mentioned this before in quips, but never the whole story). My band was on tour, they were on tour. We show up to the gig to discover that not a single hometown band had been booked by the venue, and not only that, it was an entire Illinois band show, with Peoria’s Amazing Killowatts and Jared Grabb filling out the lineup. It was an awesome show but no one came; no, not even Conor Oberst. But it’s too bad for him, ‘cause Troubled Hubble rocked and won me over that night with one of the most energetic shows I’ve ever seen, put on for an audience of a mere dozen. Singer Chris Otepka, while stepping from the top of an amp to kick drum to another amp, slipped and fell, and turning midair to protect his guitar, fell flat on his back. We all winced, but he never stopped playing. Later, they played a guitar-less power-funk jam, and the two guitarists played shakers and tambourines, often trading them mid-song by tossing them across the stage. Then they ran out the back door and around the venue and back in the front. Silly, maybe, but it convinced me that they love what they do, and are willing to put on a hell of a show just for themselves if no one else was there.
Later I saw them again and picked up Penturbia. I fell in love with it, then I reviewed it. Since then they have released two EPs, toured almost non-stop and suffered an insurance-less broken ankle. Like at the first show I saw them, in the heat of the rock moment, their frontman took another tumble, this time jumping off a balcony and shattering his ankle. They sold ankle-fund t-shirts and Chris continued to rock out in a chair.
All the physical pain and long tours have finally paid off for the Batavia boys. Paying a lot of their own well-earned money they went and recorded in DC at Inner Ear with Jason Caddell of Dismemberment Plan fame. At a New York show sometime afterwards they found a manager who I assume helped them catch the eye of Lookout! Records. A fully deserved congratulations from me to you, Troubled Hubble.
Now, about the new album… I know this isn’t the case, but it’s like they saw my Penturbia review and went and fixed the only problem I had with it. That album was great, from the fun “I Love My Canoe” to the bouncy “Nancy” and the percussion-fueled dance of “Migraine,” but it was back-loaded with slow tunes that made the album drag. Well, Making Beds In A Burning House is a full-on indie rock dance party. No, they haven’t gone 80’s like so many others; they still sound like Built to Spill meets Modest Mouse meets Dismemberment Plan, it’s just that this time the album as a whole is up-tempo foot-tapping goodness. There is a slower track or two, but they are spread out, and they hide their slowness well (if that makes sense).
Two of my favorites were previewed with their A Happy Day Went Off The Cliff EP teaser. The opener “14,000 Things To Be Happy About” gives away the band’s sound and philosophy up front. Fool everyone with a happy title and an unbelievably catchy melody before you sing “You'll die / a young and exciting death / and you will tell us all in your last breath / I'm done there's nothing to be happy about.” Also, this song has an amazing bass part, scaling the whole range of the instrument, typical of bassist Andrew Lathrum. The other song is “I’m Pretty Sure I Can See Molecules,” which is just plain addictive. Like “I Love My Canoe” on their last album, this is a song which seems delightfully nerdy on the surface only to discover there is more to it. And how could you not love fun lyrics like these? “One with nature, two for tea, three's a crowd and all for me, to walk the plank, find the shark, underwater, in the dark.”
Those two could have easily fit on Penturbia, which is fine, but I wanted to see some growth. Luckily, I got it right afterwards with “Safe & Sound,” the only minor-key TH song that I can think of. It is quarter note-heavy and driven by a stomping beat, and sounds kinda evil but kicks back to a major feel in the bridge. We get back to the cheery sounding stuff on the not-so-cheery titled next track “To Be Alive And Alone.” Maybe it’s no cheery song, but I could see any music-loving single person reveling in their current status by shouting along to “It’s a great time to be alive and alone.” “Ear Nose & Throat” is like their version of “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It,” with its non-stop lyrics and it being more rhythmic than melodic. This veers them from their strong suit, the pop hook, but I like that risk, and then they hit the hook in the chorus anyway. Some more growth is in the expansion of orchestration with the full string section on “Ear Nose & Throat Pt II,” which is an instrumental track and really just one big buildup. Strings appear other places on the album, but here they are the most dominant.
Once again, I feel TH has stacked their album with the greatest songs right up front, but unlike last time, the second half doesn’t struggle, it holds its own. I especially like “Jackpot Stampede Deluxe."
Making Beds In A Burning House is definitely a step up in consistency from Penturbia, but I must give this one the same score. I feel that these guys have not yet attained that perfect album, but they are very capable. Maybe on the next one.