Action Figure

Kowtow Popof

Wampus, 2020

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It’s interesting—to me, if no one else—that “Beatlesque” is a widely understood adjective, while if you describe something as “Kinks-esque” you’re liable to get a blank stare. As influential as those mop-tops from Liverpool have been over the last 50 years of popular music, there’s no denying that the Davies brothers (and friends) have also earned multitudes of acolytes, as well they should.

This all comes to mind over the first few minutes of Action Figure, the latest from musical iconoclast Kowtow Popof, who reappears every few years with albums whose hallucinogenic properties should probably require a prescription. One minute he’s filling your hippocampus with addictive melodic hooks, the next he’s singing about braking for squirrels. His 2006 disc End Of Greatness fried my circuits in a good way, his 2012 outing Tastes Like Armageddon was “Dreamy to the point of bending reality,” and in between, his 2009 all-instrumental release Exalted Headband felt like the soundtrack to a vision quest gone right.

Action Figure incorporates all of the above flair and inventiveness while for much of its concise 33 minutes channeling a playful, garage-y British Invasion feel that’s heavy on hooks. Calling it accessible might be a reach for a guy whose lyrics often read like Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart trading lines over a hangover brunch, but melodically, it’s a bucket of earworms. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Funksucker” opens things up with a strong Kinks vibe, layering electric leads over assertive acoustic rhythm as Hammond organ surges in and out from the back. Meanwhile the lyric feels like barroom slam poetry, as if Ian Hunter and Jon Anderson accidentally co-wrote a song about a misanthropic basement-dweller. Also, it rocks.

Same goes for the even-catchier “Daylight Moon,” a cascading waterfall of melodic hooks and scruffy vocals. “Cheap Wig Blues” feels like a change of pace for all of 50 seconds, strummy acoustic opening blossoming into a dreamy mid-tempo number whose chorus melody carries a faint echo of Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy.” Then the “Mayor Of Geneva” rolls in at the wheel of a Magical Mystery Tour van, a bouncy, hooky, wry confection whose primary purpose seems to be to exploit the remarkable number of words and phrases that rhyme with Geneva.

Just when you’re wondering which variety of curveball is coming next, Popof delivers an instrumental. Much like its brethren from Exalted Headband, “Drink Yer Tea” is freaking gorgeous, with loose-but-steady, chiming, almost jangly acoustic guitars layered on top of one another, moving through a series of engaging changes.

After that seeming intermission, “Egyptian Waters” opens the second half strong, putting Popof’s husky vocals up front over a lilting acoustic/electric riff with a Who-like push and dynamics to it. The lyric is an impressionistic bit of nostalgia that’s different in the sense that it feels less tongue-in-cheek than usual. Then “One-Way Trip” takes us to the moon riding a stutter-stepping, organ-heavy rhythmic bed that reminds of Dire Straits.

Just to keep you guessing, penultimate track “Tiptoe Prayer” is another appealing instrumental, with sunny electric guitar leading the way and warm acoustic rhythm guitar supporting. Finally, closing number “Lorn Song Of The Balladeer” offers a sort of post-modern manifesto that both inverts and mocks reality. “If I ever write this song” goes the repeating refrain of a, well, sing-songy tune that finds our narrator singing about all the places—each one a neatly rendered music video cliché—in which he would sing this song, if he ever actually got around to writing it.

Facile comparisons aside, the truth is that Kowtow Popof mostly sounds like Kowtow Popof—a genuine original whose musical vision is to the mainstream as Gaudi’s architectural vision is to classical. Popof uses familiar building blocks to construct musical visions that are like nothing you’ve ever heard, explosions of imagination and melody. Action Figure is odd in all the best ways, taking sonic forms you know and love and twisting them into intriguing new shapes.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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