Get Your Hands Off My Modem, You Weasel
Independent Release, 1997
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/12/1998
It's rare when I do a review of an album in an information vacuum. I usually have some solid information about an artist or band before I slap their disc into one of the players in the Pierce Archives (sorry, but we're not accepting interns), be it liner notes, bios in a press kit or something written about them in one of the many reference books I use.
Then, there's the case of New Jersey-based Dots Will Echo, led by vocalist/guitarist Nick Berry. Sure, Nick was nice enough to send some press clippings, but that's where the trail stopped. Reference books? No help. Liner notes? What liner notes? (Unlike many discs, their latest, Get Your Hands Off My Modem, You Weasel has no booklet, and has minimal notes on the disc itself.) Fortunately, there's the Internet Underground Music Archive - a resource I've not often used. Guess that will be changing.
If you didn't read IUMA's info on Dots Will Echo, you'd never know that the band has no bassist. The trio of Berry, keyboardist/vocalist Bob (God, I wish I knew last names!) and drummer/vocalist Steve create such tremendous layers of audio and feedback that you'd never know, much less care, that an instrument was missing. And while this disc is definitely not for the squeamish, it is an exciting slab of plastic that makes me wonder why I didn't latch onto these guys when their first album came out on a Windham Hill subsidiary years ago.
Just how warped are these guys? The CD starts numbering the tracks at 2 - courtesy of a "hidden" track at the beginning of the disc. To hear it, start playing the disc in your stereo (CD-ROM drives will not work - I know, I've tried), push pause, and hold the scan backwards key for a while. What you will hear for four minutes that, to the disc, don't exist is a mish-mash that would do artists like Frank Zappa and John Cage proud. It's bizarre, to be sure - but I got a kick out of it.
When they get down to the pop songs, Dots Will Echo can best be described as Cheap Trick on acid. The vocal harmonies of "Wonderland At Last" blow me away every time I hear them, while "I Feel Fine" and "T-E-L-E-Vision" and "I Feel Fine" are nice slabs of pop that shouldn't offend the traditional pop music fan. When you get to the sonic orgasm that is "So What," though, the pop purists should be seen running for the exits. Too bad - they won't know what they're missing.
And who else would think to combine Erik Satie with pop culture on the uncredited 99th track, where the theme from "The Flintstones" is done in classical piano format? This one takes a little patience (as well as a basic knowledge of the original tune - if you want to understand the joke without breaking out the classical collections, pick up the self-titled release by Blood, Sweat & Tears), and the joke wears thin upon repeat listenings, but it is a decent one-shot deal.
Wait, you're asking - did he say track 99? Keep reading, Grasshopper...
There are really only two mis-fires on Get Your Hands Off My Modem, You Weasel. "Within Or Without You" is, according to one press clipping I read, a Beatles cover - if it is, it sure didn't sound like any Beatles song I recognized. As a pop song, it's okay - as a cover, even an interpretation, it's lacking. (I also think the practice of stretching a song for multiple tracks - in this case, tracks 9 through 96 - is a joke that has run its course to the point of being overused. C'mon, guys, all you're doing is confusing the hell out of my equipment - and it doesn't like being confused.)
And while I've eluded to the Cage influences, I don't know why anyone would choose to cover Cage's "4' 33"". When you get to this track, don't panic if you hear nothing - that's the whole point. Cage meant for this to be a song with no noise other than background sounds from the studio - no music, no vocals, nothing. (This threw me for a loop on the second listen - I forgot the track was on this disc.) So, unless you need a four-and-a-half-minute break from any music, you can safely hit the "forward" button on the CD player without worrying about missing anything.
This is still a very fun and interesting disc to listen to - in one sense, I wonder why Dots Will Echo still remains hidden in the world of independent music. If Get Your Hands Off My Modem, You Weasel is a sign of things to come, their status should be changing soon.