After over a decade doing somersaults across stages as one fourth of The Poison Control Center, Patrick Tape-Fleming has taken a deeper look inward on his new project, Gloom Balloon. The loud guitars and screaming are gone (mostly), making room for a more subtle balance of musical experimentation and sincere songwriting. The album is broken into two halves-the first a crazy exploration through musical genres, the second a heartfelt tribute to Tape-Fleming’s friend and musical hero Bill Doss of The Olivia Tremor Control. Even with two wildly different approaches, the album works as a whole. And it’s one of the best records I’ve heard all year.
While Tape-Fleming is the driving force of Gloom Balloon, he’s not alone. He’s enlisted Chris Ford of Christopher The Conquered as co-producer, and H.D. Harmsen (whose album Papoose is another 2013 gem) helped with string arrangements that pop up all over both halves of the record. Together they’ve created a really interesting sonic palate that has led me to describe it to friends as Conor Oberst meets Herbie Hancock and Melvin Van Peebles.
You may have heard a little bit from Gloom Balloon earlier this year when they released a 7″ that was featured on Spin.com. That song, “She Was The One That Got Away,” does not appear on the new album. It did, however, give a good bit of insight into what Gloom Balloon’s full-length would sound like. A hip-hop beat lays the foundation, but Tape-Fleming and Ford fill the rest with horns and sweet harmonies as Patrick rap/sings the verses.
That one is backed with “The Science Of Love Minus Harry Harlow,” which features Bob Nastanovich of Pavement on drums. Nastanovich lives in Des Moines now, and he’s taken quite an interest in a lot of the local music being made there. This song is more of a funk jam. It’s got trumpets, sax, some auto-tuned synth, and short drops of spoken word. If Beck and Stevie Wonder ever made a song together, it might sound something like this.
You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Disaster kicks off with some gorgeous strings that leads into a deep bass hit followed by some very nuanced percussion work. The strings give way to a whirring synthesizer sounds before Tape-Fleming rejoins to lay claim to being “the luckiest fucking fool in this town.” It’s a totally different tone than what we got with the initial single, but it still shares a lot of sonic qualities, and works as a great intro to the rest of the album.
I love the track that shares its name with the band. “Gloom Balloon” features some of Tape-Fleming’s best songwriting to date, and the first line can almost sum up the whole first half of the album: “You don’t have to be alone to feel alone, it’s so true.” I love the blending of classical strings and horns with electronic beats, but here it works better than anywhere else on the record. And the way it blends into the title track is a great feat of editing.
The opening of the second half of the album is a dark tunnel of noise that somehow works even though it doesn’t seem like it should. Squeaking saxophones and trumpets over a synchronous live drum and electronic beat create almost too much noise for your mind to process. In the end, “Will C., You, Cut Me Like A Matisse” is a perfect set up for the even more experimental songs to come.
As much as I love all the weirdness and crazy stuff that goes on throughout the album, it’s really “Fix The Sunshine” that ties the whole thing up, and it’s a straight-ahead acoustic pop song. It’s such perfect tribute to Doss and his lasting legacy in the music world. Tape-Fleming sings, “You can leave it, all behind: your possessions, your soul, but your songs I’ll keep with mine. And even if I never, ever, ever heard one of them again, I would still have them memorized cause I considered you a friend. I’ll say it again, If I could fix the sunshine, you know I’d try. And all the children in the world are one day going to die. And so Will, You and I.”
Hopefully I haven’t spoiled much of the record for you. I’ve listened to it a bunch of times and I still find something new every time. You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Disaster/Fix The Sunshine comes out December 3rd according to Maximum Ames Records website, but you can pre-order now, which I would highly recommend. Albums like this don’t come around every day, and we need to cherish them when they do. So buy a copy for yourself and buy ten more for your friends.