- Blue vinyl (Limited Edition)
- Wire Wheels and Robots
- Portuguese Dream
- Royal Family
- Nervous Eater
- Idle Hands
- Last of the Good Times
- Then and Now
- The Vincent Letter
- 48 Hours
- Dream Homes
Release Date: October 5, 2016
Label: Heavy Psych Sounds Records
There are not many rules to which Fatso Jetson are not an exception. Think bands invariably stagnate after, say, 21 years past their debut? Nope. Think desert rock is limited in scope? Nope. Think punk can’t be soothing? Nope. The pivotal Californian outfit, who indeed formed in 1994 and issued their first album, Stinky Little Gods, the next year on Greg Ginn‘s SST Records, continue to reinvent the wheels that roll them forward. It’s been six years since Archaic Volumes classed up the joint in 2010, playing to jazz ideologies with liberal inclusion of sax, and going into their seventh full-length, Idle Hands (on Heavy Psych Sounds), they’ve made it nearly impossible to know what to expect of them through varied work over the last several years on splits with Yawning Man, Herba Mate and Farflung, as well as a recent collaboration with Yawning Man‘s Gary Arce and France’s Hifiklub.
One second they’re oozing out languid psychedelia, and the next they’re dug into a pocket of angular rhythmic tension. With the 11 songs/56 minutes of Idle Hands, Fatso Jetson offer a little bit of everything and plenty more besides, founding parties Mario Lalli (guitar/vocals), Larry Lalli (bass) and Tony Tornay (drums) joined for the first time on record by guitarist Dino von Lalli (also of BigPig), Mario‘s son. Also, Sean Wheeler (Throw Rag) and Olive Lalli (sister to Dino, daughter to Mario, etc.) provide guest vocals, and in addition to the Lallis and Tornay writing, producer Mathias Schneeberger at Rancho de la Luna reportedly helped solidify some of the ideas within tracks. Ultimately, it is no real wonder Idle Hands sounds as multifaceted as it does.
And yet, that’s not really anything so uncommon for Fatso Jetson. They’ve always broken those rules. Going back to Stinky Little Gods and its 1997 follow-up, Power of Three, they’ve never failed to harness underlying punk rock energy and imbue it with a wide open creative spirit, and whether it’s the starts and stops of opener “Wire Wheels and Robots” or Wheeler‘s takeoff into spoken word on the subsequent “Portuguese Dream,” that’s still very much the case.
But for the fact that they’ve been doing it for more than 20 years, one might be tempted to say it’s a miracle Idle Hands flows as smoothly as it does, but Fatso Jetson always manage to sound like they’ve blown the doors off their own wheelhouse; a band who refuse to fall into a comfort zone. A notion of dreams ties the first two songs together — the chorus begins, “Dreams of wire, wheels and robots…” — but doesn’t seem to be an overarching theme, though symmetry is found elsewhere as Wheeler appears on the second and penultimate tracks, the latter being “48 Hours,” providing a bookend that continues as instrumental closer “Dream Homes” answers the sharper edges of “Wire Wheels and Robots.”
Between the front and back, Fatso Jetson wander vast spaces as they please, dropping choice hooks in “Royal Family” and “Nervous Eater” with a calming or a more shuffling delivery depending on which second of which song you’re hearing, and stretching out over the more extended instrumentals “Seroquel” (6:33) and the later “The Vincent Letter” (6:54), the latter of which finds fluidity in thuds and interplay of lead lines that move Idle Hands into its closing duo. By then, the title-track has fed out of “Seroquel” and into the winding “Last of the Good Times” — part of the fun of the album is trying to guess who wrote what part — but no matter where Fatso Jetson go, the jaded boogie vibe of “Then and Now” or the hi-hat driven push of “Nervous Eater”‘s chorus, they never lose sight of the song, never get crossed up in a way they don’t want to be, and never fail to imbue their tracks with a spirit of performance that lives up to and expands on their storied legacy.
It’s worth emphasizing that while Idle Hands proves anything but idle, it’s not disjointed. Fatso Jetson have basked in dissonance and weirdo excursions over the years, absolutely — 1999’s Flames for All comes immediately to mind, trailed by 2001’s Toasted prior to the more mature and smoothed out Cruel and Delicious in 2002 — but while their latest work clearly has some of those same impulses at its foundation, there isn’t a moment at which it lacks cohesion or when something feels out of place. Of course, given their general breadth of songwriting and everything-fits style, it would be hard for something to be, but however this material was carved out and with whomever at the lead position at any given moment, there’s an overarching sonic personality at work that can be heard in “Portuguese Dream” as much as “Seroquel” as much as “Dream Homes” that is very, very much Fatso Jetson‘s own.
The word “inimitable” comes to mind, and maybe part of the reason they’re so ready to slip into and out of the bizarre is that Fatso Jetsonhave never really fit in to one idea of what rock music should be. They continue here to toy with the form, and as a summation of the last several years’ of their ongoing progression, Idle Hands delivers their peculiar charm in a batch of quality songs that underscore how special a band they always have been. Further, Idle Hands proves that aside from being one of the essential, formative acts of California’s original desert rock movement, Fatso Jetson are a band who’ve never found reason to compromise their individuality or draw back the reins on inspiration.
Their progression has never stopped and one expects that for as long as they continue to make music, they will keep moving forward on a variety of levels. An infusion of fresh blood here in Dino no doubt has a hand in some of the energy present throughout, but Fatso Jetson are and remain Fatso Jetson, and whether a given listener is a newcomer to their work or a longtime follower, the scope that they encompass is ripe for appreciation.
- The Obelisk