Sunday, January 23, 2011

Escobarb - Pong (#3, 2010)

What can I say? I'm a huge fan of Pong - going way back to when 3/5 (now 3/7) of them were Ed Hall. I mean, I made videos for all the songs on this album, even "Applesauce." Which is kinda frightening... I'm surprised no restraining orders were involved! But this ended up being much stronger even than I'd originally thought.

The older live favorites were excellent of course, but some of the unheard stuff was just as good... Especially the ever-more-mindblowing title track. I still think of Pong as primarily a live in-person event, so this their 3rd album continued a progression - taking them beyond just awesomely documenting the current accumulated live set.

Pong with strobe-globe
A few of these pull apart the slightly funky, somewhat edgy, space-vibe party-rock components and rebuild them into even weirder shapes. Also, I haven't done a scientific analysis, but I think Escobarb has the richest sound palette of Pong's three albums. Most noticeable on the synthesizers, but also female vocals, different instruments, and various treatments and effects...

I've already said a whole lot about the music on Side A and Side B. As I so rarely do here, what with all the instrumentalism - let's look at the lyrics. A lot of people will tell you to ignore the words - just bug out and/or dance - but not me. Like all great sci-fi, Pong give us a low-culture trash perspective (usually the best) on high-falutin' concepts - or so I can think.

"Rocket Fuel"

Maybe a Thoreauvian DIY blast-off: we, let's, us. Then it inverts the Major Tom dynamic for outsiders. Rather than Pong to Ground Control, it's "please send a message." Like they're not patched in directly? I can imagine Pong in their home-made rocket (in orange jumpsuits), flying past Mir and signalling for a little help. Escape velocity, new philosophy, and trajectory - maybe this "other world" is only in the mind? If so, where can I get some of this rocket fuel?

"Laika" (live light-show rehearsal)

I think the key to "Laika" is the line, "My name is God, if you spell it backwards." A lot of the situations Laika faces with us could also be our questions posed to God. "I've flown through space, yet I call you master?" And in times of trouble, "wonder why you call me your best friend..." All the instruments sound really good here, but especially the guitar-bass-guitar stop/start pattern like at the very beginning.

"Suicide Cat"
I can't reconcile the first verses with the rest. The mundane first-to-second person address comes from a different place than the surreal third-person omniscience describing the café scene. Is it the reverse of Valis' fractured resolution from Horselover Fat back to PKD? And is "think of the future" helpful when talking down the suicide cat? I'm not sure whether it's acid house or techno or whatever, but I think the beat and flow tones down some kind of big electro-club style.


Swappin' DNA always reminds me of "RNA" and "mutants wearing tight genes" from the previous two albums. I had called this song "It's Great," "Super-great," "Super-eight," and maybe even "Super-right." Which all ended up being sortawrong. The instrumental breaks are classic Pong noise-bump. "This thing's stuck on On." Intense sounds!

"Can you hear me go...? Now here we go..." Raise the roof, a little bit softer now. Miminalist collage moto-funk ambient, with hushed booty-call rapping and hip-hop beatz? Ayup.

Nah, yer just paranoid. With a callback to the "New World Order" (from their 2001 debut), dodging the authorities to avoid being locked up and the key thrown away takes on all new meaning after the last 5-plus years. "Run from Big Brother... there'll be no place to run." I've become a bit more of a believer in this song. I like the various parts and with a different arrangement (less farmyard breakdown), I could see it working better overall.


A great mash-up of John Denver and Philip K. Dick (again!). A long long time ago, I heard someone describe "Sunshine On My Shoulder" as the epitome of poetry, because of its universal tactile resonance. The same could be said for "Your hands all over my body / oh, and I get overstimulated." That fat synth sound gets pretty overstimulated, and there's quite a bit of craziness going on between it and that hyperkinetic drumbeat, then all of a sudden... drowsy peacefulness. And soon to sleep, perchance to dream?


Pure Shakespeare, baby!! The cast of characters, the underground king of the music scene, the baseball guys, Escobarb's tape, Munsingwear, "you don't look really beat up." Reinforcing (or influencing) my Rocket Fuel theory is "we built a spaceship in my front yard." Echoing my Suicide Cat theory are the shifting (or cycling) perspectives throughout this one - definitely between time frames, possibly between characters, even genders... There are a couple of so-far-unintelligeable sections. So many mysteries!!

I think you need to be aware of this bizarre and recently unearthed tidbit, from a 1995 Austin Chronicle article on the state of Ed Hall right before their last album:
However, Chester's most salient early influence was Escobarb, a mysterious rock band/secret society that existed at his school around 1980.

"There was this guitar player when I was growing up named Sean Kelly," Chester relates. "He was this total rock god, but he never graduated high school. Then he decided he never wanted to leave his house. We thought he was the head of this supposed underground cult conspiracy called Escobarb. They played this music that was really weird, like Gong. They had all these really weird lyrics, and they were supposedly all these popular figures at the school with secret names. They would send their tapes to Sean's house in a carved-out book wrapped in Munsingwear underwear like some kind of spy thing. It got really intense. Then, they sent a book called Escobarb R.I.P., saying they had become the New Zandergroids. The book had pictures of every person who had ever been in Escobarb and my picture was in there. No one ever figured out what Escobarb was or where the tapes were coming from."
"You don't know it, but you are, already in Escobarb." Weird, huh?

P.S. I just made up the adjective "Thoreauvian," but apparently that is actually correct!


Genre - Party-Down Space Rock
Official -
Myspace -
Location - Austin, TX

Review - 29-95
Download - n/a
Purchase - Amazon

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