Review Summary: A scrappy and lurid record, filled with self-aware black humor and sharp musicality
Perhaps best described as the aural equivalent of a B-movie, Polkadot Cadaver’s oddball but very controlled sense of insanity has managed to sustain two albums, until now. And that is not counting the releases of the stylistically similar Dog Fashion Disco, frontman Todd Smith’s previous band. The gleeful self-awareness the band exhibit on previous releases Purgatory Dance Party
and Sex Offender
has been carried over to Last Call In Jonestown
, and the release is every bit as manic as its predecessors. Polkadot Cadaver have always been more about musical expansion than progression, preferring to doctor their unique style to suit the mood of the release at hand rather than uproot and tamper with the conventions they have established.
Their third release is lighter on innovation in musical terms, but the high level of energy that is consistent throughout more than makes up for it, shooting the release full of a demonic flair that lurches from profound to demented in the blink of an eye. This time around, though, there is a noticeable sense of refinement to the sound; Last Call In Jonestown
employs a decidedly more traditional rock-and-metal approach to the songwriting, with the idiosyncrasies that made previous releases so memorable decidedly sparser in frequency. This could be viewed as a lamentable alteration, but the album itself is more focused musically, demonstrating a sound that has the intensity, but is also contained in a more easily-definable package. This is not containment in a traditional sense, however; this is the sensory equivalent of containing an item within twine. Sometimes, the release surpasses its boundaries, other times it sits rather comfortably inside. Regardless of this, wherever Last Call In Jonestown
is taking the listener, it is always a ridiculous amount of fun.
Vocalist Smith’s lyricism is as sharp and cruel as it ever was, featuring a pleasingly warped assortment of bizarre sentiments and some impressively well-implemented vocal melodies that harmonize with the instrumentation admirably. 'Sheer Madness' features Smith performing a quickly ascending pitch shift in time with the song’s melody, allowing the composition to see-saw between its namesake and conventional songwriting in a bastardized slurry of musical motifs. Smith’s forceful performance is faultless throughout, and even on the album’s weaker tracks he manages to create an alternative reason to enjoy the experience and succumb to the aberration.
In songwriting terms, the album is fairly conventional, employing mostly traditional song structures in the pursuit of innovation. A little counter-productive possibly, but the execution of the compositions is where the true invention is allowed to shine through. Instrumental refrains and kooky asides pepper the music, and whether it be through some mischievous vocal pattern or the incorporation of a synth amidst the chaos, the delivery feels scatty and not without a perverted sense of charm. On third track 'Painkiller' for example, a recurrent piano motif serves as a melodic backdrop for the minimalist style, before the style warps and becomes a synthesized display of harmony, with Smith’s vocals the perfect complement.
Bluegrass-style refrains that last no more than a few moments and even musical dins reminiscent of science-fiction sound effects make appearances throughout the album, but it is noteworthy that never do these idiosyncrasies feel truly offbeat. All these artistic touches are implemented into the melodies at face value, and each serve an important purpose within the context of their individual tracks. PD display a snappy experimentation in their sound despite the fact they never tread too far from the beaten path in terms of structure, and this is perhaps at the heart of what makes their music so appealing. There is a divisive sense of frenzied anxiety on tracks such as 'Touch You Like Caligula', 'Transistors Of Mercy' and the title track, with this musical trait being something the band have honed to an almost perfect level. The instrumental builds and thundering melodies are fantastically orchestrated and well maintained, and although the album seems to slip into a lackadaisical sense of complacency for a couple of tracks later on in the release, the sheer vibe of organized chaos that resonates throughout every depraved second showcase some of the most highly enjoyable and unique musicality seen from the band in recent years.
The effortlessly licentious style of the release could be considered a plus or a negative, depending on the musical tastes of the listener. Nevertheless, it is hard to deny that the delightfully wacky sense of merriment that compounds the experience is a refreshing taste of innovation. It falls below previous album Sex Offender
on a critical level, but only in terms of musical quality. The band is very much the same and very little has changed in the two year interval. The more focused sound will be welcomed by some and berated by others, but in this respect the songwriting feels more mature, and for a band whose sound is most definitely geared at a mature audience, this is doubtlessly a plus. It is a shame that the diverse nature of previous releases has been watered down somewhat, but the experience of listening to Polkadot Cadaver still remains, and what a deranged, anarchic journey their most recent descent into depravity is.