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One Ring Zero: Planets
Urban Geek Records
Joshua Camp and Michael Hearst: vocals, claviola, accordion, theremin, mellotron, melodica, guitars, bass, viola, drum sequencing, Thomas organ, piano, glockenspiel, keyboards, thunder drum, automatic choral top, and other noises.
Ben Holmes: trumpet
Timothy Quigley: drum kit, darbuka, percussion
Ian Riggs: electric & upright bass
Hamilton Berry, cello
Kelly Eudailey, vocals
Mark Feldman, violin
Jacob Garchik, tuba
Curtis Hasselbring, trombone
Rick Moody, vocals
Dmitri Slepovich, clarinet
Karen Waltuch, viola
Affixed to the front of Planets, a new album inspired by “the splendor and complexity of our celestial neighbors,” is a sticker bearing a quote from noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. In it, he laments, “Was enjoying One Ring Zero’s album until a track titled ‘Pluto’ came on. What’s up with that?”
It’s precisely that kind of subtle play of wit that has come to define One Ring Zero, a band of gentlemen who write quite seriously for instruments such as the claviola and mellotron. The group first caught the ear of literary Brooklynites through regular appearances as McSweeney’s house band, and then expanded that reputation a few paces further when they convinced writers such as Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Ames—basically a list of authors drawn from the “best new fiction” table at your local B&N—to pen the lyrics for their breakout 2004 release As Smart As We are.
So it probably goes without pointing out that audiences have had fair warning that Planets, even if it was purportedly following the musical example of Holst 100 years after the fact, was going to pull out a few tricks Gustav never had up his sleeve. I mean, the last time Ring leader Micheal Hearst (who fronts the band with partner-in-crime Joshua Camp) sought to fill what he saw as a serious void in American music he ended up producing a slew of new melodies for ice cream trucks.
All silliness (or at least most—wouldn’t want to drain away all traces of joy) aside, Planets proves itself to be made up of lovely, carefully crafted music that dips into a whole mess of genre styles and timbral possibilities. Hit play and a bit of sonic vaudevillian melodrama leads to a groove of electric bass and Thomas organ, which then gives way to an indie-folk guitar picking tune just before the gypsy klezmer band strolls through the proceedings—and that only gets us about halfway into the album’s second track.
I was already having paper cutout Le Voyage dans la lune fantasies while following the lyrical narrative arc of Planets, and they were then brought to life in the video for “Venus.”
The styles and references pile on as the journey continues to carry us farther and farther from the sun (sample the full range here). By the time we pass by not-quite-a-planet Pluto, the album has drawn in a wide cast of musical characters, and yet the off-beat wind instruments and the vocals of Hearst and Camp never allow it to stray too far from the band’s signature sound. In so doing, Planets successfully capitalizes on the best of what the end of genre opens up to composers in the 21st-century: a world of possibility filtered through the intelligence of inspired musical minds.