Jookabox’s third album (after previous releases as Grampall Jookabox) is a queasy psychedelic mapping of songwriter David ‘Moose’ Adamson’s Indianapolis home, specifically the city’s troubled East Side. As the title and the skull-filled artwork indicate, Adamson sees the city as a land of the undead, penning odes to the phantoms and zombies he sees inhabiting the streets.
With its thickly layered, multi-voiced narratives, codes and reprises, ‘Dead Zone Boys’ gives off signs of a concept album, but the foggy, dubbed-out production obscures any linear story or clear messages. Instead, Jookabox’s Indianapolis comes to life in a shadowy series of hallucinatory fragments, akin to the domestic mysticism of Mark E Smith’s Manchester or Jah Wobble’s London.
Musically, Adamson and his cohorts, primarily drummer Patrick ‘Ostry’ ‘Sweets’ Okerson, whose pounding military beats first draw us in, fashion a mush of funk, soul, bluegrass and pop influences into a peculiarly dark, glassy mosaic. Jookabox continually conjure up cinematic sounds to compliment the lyrical imagery. ‘Gonna Need the Guns/Doom Hope’ sees Adamson in James Brown mode, marshalling his band through a spaghetti western, while ‘You Cried Me’ is a disarmingly rapid hillbilly interlude of the sort that punctuates the zippy action of the Coen brothers’ zanier features.
Although packed with succinct, memorable tunes, ‘Dead Zone Boys’ main sticking point is the heavily pitch-bent vocals throughout the album. This isn’t the auto-tuning favoured in contemporary pop production, but the tape-manipulated craziness of Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes at his most wilfully awkward. Although sometimes in keeping with the disembodied phantom voices haunting the mix, when it jars, as on ‘Glyphin’ Out’, the technique brings forth flashbacks to the heyday of helium rave. Least successful is closing track ‘F.I.T.F. #1’ where Adamson pitches himself downwards to a slurry moan, like the drunken tomfoolery of Ween at their worst.
A fascinating, but flawed, trip to the interzone. SH