by Caleb Calhoun
[Listen to full album on SPOTIFY HERE]
It’s 8:30 on a Sunday night and I am sitting at my desk in my tiny ass room in Asheville tripping way harder than I had planned on. I always underestimate that good Dead and Co family shit. But it’s no big deal, my evening plans are pretty simple to begin with.
I’ve been hearing about this band from Vermont called The Big Sip, and I have their new six-song EP and nothing but time to listen, to analyze, to enjoy. So a little too much LSD or not, I dive right in.
They have my attention from the jump, as they launch into their album with The Worst of It: an 80’s power piano riff, if ever there was, that drops into a slow jam of a chorus. I am immediately mesmerized by Matt Diener’s voice and the story telling approach to song-writing that will resurface throughout the record. Meanwhile they are already carrying me somewhere else, a rock-opera opening to their album that plays perfectly with the places the little blue paper seems to be taking me.
Jack Cattabiani’s bass is just starting to get grooving, just starting to warm up as they move from Elton John to Marvin Gaye seamlessly. From power-pop to soulful R&B this first song is a microcosm of the sonic trip they have in store for me.
But Cattabiani isn’t warming up for long. They open the second song Midnight Snek with a busy, groovy bass riff that immediately has your hips moving even if they are sitting in an office chair. There is a certain amount of Vulfpeck, skewered over the fire of a drunk carnival worker after a particularly busy show, that pulls through their music – a confident originality that nods to what others are doing without diminishing their own sideways professionalism.
I am reminded of the Murfreesboro, TN band Afro, now defunct, but an early proving ground for some of the brightest musicians in the southeast*, and feel a similar magic coming through these songs. These are the songs of young prodigies stretching their legs and looking in the mirror. The songs of young men and women measuring themselves to and against their idols and realizing, for the first time, that they stack up.
The riff is funky and technical, the entire song built bass-upwards, and even as I reminisce I find that my hips are still moving back and forth in the seat of this beige rolling office chair I managed to snag on some curb last year.
From Midnight Snek they head into Skucking Funks, a song that appears, at first blush, to be simply about a fight with a local brood of skunks, but draws you into it’s own little political nightmare that is, the United States of America in 2018.
Still, there is no preaching going on, just immaculate bass lines and a groove you can’t seem to shake, pun intended. Darker and heavier than their first couple of songs Skucking Funks builds epically to a hectically soaring Diener guitar solo before resolving into his voice again.
His voice that spreads itself across the next song, my personal favorite on the album, Parking in the Parking Lot. His voice that opens up above a slow jazz groove taking us again on a journey with him.
The song, part slow-dance and part lullaby turns and tosses gently before coalescing around the major scales the song is based on, rising powerfully, dynamically, carrying the darkness with it somehow into the light. I find myself emotional without even fully understanding what the song is about, muscles tense and teeth on edge.
They harness that feeling as they head into Two Hips/One Night a dark, electronic song that early on sounds like it should be on the soundtrack for a cult classic original Nintendo Entertainment System game, but soon is blending elements of hip-hop and rage rock into a coherent song and message, and a fitting culmination for an album full of experimentation and exploration.
Then it is Jack Herscowitz chance to impress on the saxophone, as the entire song takes a filthy, jazzy turn. He comes out smoking, early on playing only his reed, but destroys it on the full sax for the bridge.
They roll through discord, disharmony, and confusion before returning again to the song itself, just long enough to finish it off.
Then, bold as love, they head into a cover of Amy Winehouse’s Valerie where Diener can really show off his vocal chops. For the first two-thirds of the song they keep it traditional but as the song progresses they really begin to make it their own, bringing in some odd swing influenced chorus that moves into a reggae bridge that they loop around itself a couple of times before turning the listener loose again.
Turning me loose to go to bed and stare at the back of my eyelids for 6 hours. The truth is that this cloudless fluff was just what the doctor ordered tonight, and The Big Sip’s Sip Responsibly was the perfect companion. I couldn’t have planned it better had I tried.
*Afro, the band, has contributed to the current or past touring line-ups of Backup Planet, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Maradeen, Copper Into Steel, Masseuse, and several other bands