The Back Pockets can really be understood only in the context of their live show. I saw them in Brooklyn a while ago. They were all half-naked, fully body painted, and very well equipped with what I can only describe to be props. There was a toy sword, a ladder with a cymbal attached, a sheet hung seemingly for some sort of projection, and more. I was not-so-psyched for what I expected to be a band with a lot of gimmicks. But what I got was an amazing piece of audio-visual theatre. By halfway through the set, the entire audience was ritualistically beating the floor with whatever they could find.
But this is not a review of that show. This is a review of their album, Blissters N Basements.
The reason that introduction was necessary is that you need to have some sort of idea of just how ambitious this band (slash performance troupe) really is. This record is clearly an attempt to encapsulate their live performance. And, quite honestly, it is not entirely successful. But it is more than enough to give me very high hopes for this band, recorded as well as live. This is still one of my top 10 records of the first half of the year.
It's hard to pigeonhole this band into a genre, as it is in some ways reminiscent of the circus/cabaret/cult-core scene (more in the vein of the World/Inferno Friendship Society than the Dresden Dolls), but it has received just as much influence from the slower, more stripped-down, rawer sound of the anti-folk movement (with about five times as many members as your average anti-folk band). However, the band seems to prioritize percussion and sonic experimentation over traditional melody.
The record starts at its rawest and most cult-like with a Death Set-esque beat and otherwise somewhat atmospheric music in "Australia." Eventually, the voice of the (female) singer cuts in, chanting slowly, as the song is built up, layer upon layer, with various (albeit mostly percussive) instruments.
The second track, "Storysong" is probably the best on the album, as it is the most lyrically developed. With fuller instrumentation, this song is the most punk-like of all on the album, which certainly helps it in the absence of the band's visual aspect. At one point this song devolves into a beautiful spazz-fest that clearly marks the high point on the album.
"My Demise" is another standout track, infused with more energy and spring than other, slower (though still interesting) songs. "Cannibal Erotica" is a soulful, almost Grace Jones-esque, lo-fi, swing-y piece that will definitely get your toes a-tapping.
The biggest problem with the album is that the songs are too long. This is distinctly not a problem during their live set, because there is so much other stuff going on. But recorded, the minimalistic songs start to wear out. At times one feels that the album would be better served just played at double speed. Long, slower songs are the perfect backing to their larger-scale performance, but they can't inspire the same type of fanaticism on their own. That said, the songs, even on their own, are still undeniably entertaining.
You will definitely want to keep your eye out for this band in the future, and make sure to catch them if they play your town. But don't just take my word for it. The band has posted the album for free download on MediaFire.