Let's see... the last time we saw Woody Aplanalp (try saying that name five times real fast without putting a cramp in your tongue), he was plugging away with favorites Old Californio, one of the best West Coast bands there was a few years ago. Seems like only yesterday, he was laying down guitar/steel and singing away as if he didn't have a care in the world. And suddenly... the band folded. Maybe not so suddenly, perhaps, but suddenly enough. With all the talent in that band I wondered where they would all go. Well, Woody decided to form his own band, Bonsai Universe, and the shock for me is that it is not at all similar to OC. Not. Even. Close. Which is fine by me because what Woody is putting on the shelf, though different, is every bit as good as OC. Completely different, but as good.
So different, though, that it took my ears a few listens to adapt. No country rock leanings here, nor Brit Rock roots. No blues. No rock 'n' roll. No. What Woody gives us on Moonstream is an odd mixture of electronica and pop, some of it very accessible and some you might have to work a little to understand. (It's the ones you work to hear which end up being your favorites) And odd simply means you don't hear it every day.
A few of the songs have me listening differently, in fact. My first thoughts when hearing “A Lot of Nerve” and “Too Real” was that Neil Young might want to have a crack at them because while they are not typical Neil Young songs, he could fold them into his style nicely. In my head, every time I hear “Walking With My Eyes Closed”, Jimmy Ruffin's “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted” super-imposes itself over the song creating an intriguing combination of soul/rock sounds. “Am I Good Enough” is pure pop, “Sweet Exaggeration” has a Brazilian underbite (think samba) and “Should I Believe You?” steps into another dimension a la synthesizer.
“Astrotonic” is practically stand-alone, an emotional cacophony of synthetic shrieks and sirens squeezed from something existing inn the dark. It fits nicely as an intro to the final song on the album, a cartoon finale as we float off to dreamland.
Not like I expected at all. Much better. Aplanalp has stretched even my limits while keeping the album thematically solid. Good songs very well-produced and in just the right order. A nod and a wink, Woody. You done good. Another winner of the Linus Multiple Listening Award. I didn't get it at first but by the tenth listen, I was so glad I stuck it out.
By the way, in case you are curious about where the OC fellows went, drummer Justin Smith has been with Nocona since leaving the band (new album pending) and has just signed on with Howlin Rain, another SoCal outfit; keyboard man and accordionist is working on solo material with his kids; Jason Chesney just signed on with Michael Nesmith as a member of the new First National Band; and Rich Dembowski has last been sighted with a really oddball but very cool band calling themselves Elouise (check out their videos on Vimeo).