REVIEW: Possum Dixon, Star Maps (Interscope)

It’s easy to get on a band for trying to exploit some hip new music trend (e.g. glam-metal, grunge, metal-rap, punk), but you can understand it too. Given the fact that record companies think in such categories and (more to the point for a beginning band) live audiences think that way, that’s a lot of pressure to aim for well-established measures of musical quality.

Possum Dixon is a playful and likable L.A. band which manages (thankfully) to be difficult to pigeonhole, but they’ve somehow made a relatively quick jump to the major labels.. Their songs may have odd surfaces or moods, but at the center of each one is a chewy pop center. The songs are the catchy love rants of twenty-something clerks and runners delivered with convincing earnestness and urgency. The lyrics veer from a talky casual (“from the bathroom she came out and made an order/ two HUEVOS RANCHEROS”) to a playful artyness (“love story senseless”).

Listening to Star Maps, I’m constantly hearing other bands but the references shift and have no glaring chunks of derivativeness. They have a guitars-bass-drums lineup plus keyboard and their songs are all tastefully arranged and throughout there are touches of extraterrestrial noises. They have managed to blend their influences very skillfully and finely, ending up with an expressive voice that still sounds very familiar. Rob Zabrecky’s vocals come from Lou Reed/Frank Black territory: often talkative and even when tuneful he’ll still swerve into talking as if the melodies couldn’t carry the proper insistence.

This album has a pleasant and compassionate party atmosphere, like drunks who sit around your place radiating joy and occasionally throw in killer one-liners and be sober by the end of the party. Unlike Rocket From the Crypt, their party-happy label mates, who are musically the drunks who scream for everyone’s attention, tattoo your dog and then vomit on your rug.

Some of the highlights of this album are the ZZ-Top groove “Go West”, “Emergency’s About to End” which is propelled by a one-finger new-wave keyboard part, “Crashing On Your Planet” and the unexpected “Reds”, which would be right at home on Pink Floyd’s “The Final Cut” or any Roger Waters solo album.

So all in all, an intelligent, likable and talented band. Not essential yet, but when they stretch out past pop pleasures they could well make a splash. And the story is that they have chaotically enjoyable live shows, so you may want to catch them in a town near you.