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Not to be confused with defunct English hard rockers The Glitterati (spelled with one less t) this local band is a project of Marc Gartman, Duluth’s grand master of many genres. There’s also Tim Saxhaug and Dave Carroll of this town’s claim to fame, Trampled by Turtles. The drummer is Kyle Keegan, who has performed with major acts such as Aaron Freeman of Ween, Mandolin Orange and Ben Howard.
The group has been performing around the Twin Ports since 2013, but this is their first full-length album. (The last five songs were originally released as an EP in 2017.) They were set to tour but like everything else in the galaxy, COVID-19 threw a wrench in the works. Their opening show March 13 at Pizza Luce was cancelled earlier that day. So for now, this will have to suffice.
They started out as an acoustic cover band playing the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, but this ain’t no ‘60s folk music. It’s closer to ‘70s disco with ‘80s New Wave and ‘90s New Age thrown in, then stripped down by way of ‘00s minimalism.
The opening track, “I Believe You” is reminiscent of The Fixx’s 1983 hit “Saved By Zero,” in minor key with crisp guitar on the low end. The song blends into “Another Day,” which completes the Fixx connection by adding dreamlike synth on the upper end. (As an experiment I tried playing “Saved By Zero” and Glitteratti’s songs simultaneously. They don’t mesh too well, as the beats are slightly off. This is the sort of thing one does in quarantine.)
Several numbers are slow and simple, though lovely soundscapes. In “Who We Are” the guitars and keyboards create a cascade of notes. “Plans” has a sweet melody and an accompanying video (viewable on Youtube or the band’s website) that features a dashboard camera view of a long drive down country roads on a winter night with falling snow, and the effect is hypnotic. By the eighth track, “In Pasadena,” however, this mellow shtick gets monotonous. But apparently the band covets this song, as it was the title track of the 2017 EP.
Things liven up some with the dance numbers. “Ask the Mrs” has a nimble lead guitar and builds well, especially when horn-like synth joins in toward the end. “Dancing With Only Yourself” has a reggae beat with a haunting melody. The music sounds serious but the lyrics are kind of funny: The vain, macho narrator (“Yeah yeah yeah show my muscles”) falls for someone who’s even more self-centered and he finds the aloofness a turn-on. (“Making my number one mission to be at your feet.”)
“The Monster Eats You” has a catchy beat, and, like this first track, a Fixx-like guitar with encompassing synth chords. The percussion has an echo effect that sounds like footsteps on a suspension bridge, suitable for the subject matter, which seems to be a serial killer.
Lyrics aren’t of major concern to these guys, as they make clear right away. “I Believe You” is just one line repeated over and over: “Have a look all around, is there nothing left that’s true? I believe you.” Maybe it’s a comment on the post-truth era. But its connecting song, “Another Day,” is nonsense: “I don’t know but he’s scared / I don’t know but he’s scared of you.” That’s the entire lyric. Why’s it titled “Another Day?” My best guess is that it’s a line from the James Bond movie “Die Another Day” and someone thought it’d make a catchy rhythmic phrase. Probably not, but whatever logic there is seems just as random.
“Songs of Love and Devotion” also has one line repeated ad infinitum: “You belong among the wild children singing songs of love and devotion.” Do wild children do that? “Lord of the Flies” would have been a very different story if that were the case. Or maybe there are a couple of commas in there (You belong among the wild, children, ... ) urging kids to get out and go camping, which would explain the album cover. Indeed the song, which becomes a round with building layers of harmony, could make a decent campfire sing-along, but the production makes it sound more like church music.
In other songs the lyrics get a little more complex, but then they’re simply repeated from one stanza to the next. They can be unintentionally silly: “Tiny men sharpen swords, coming after me. Be careful what you wish for. I’ll trade a nickel for a dime anytime. I ask the Mrs, she says she’s fine.” It’s like when Paul McCartney released “Mary Had a Little Lamb”: Is it a statement that lyrics don’t matter? Is it an inside joke? Or a joke on us all? For me it brings up a longstanding pet peeve, that if you can’t write decent lyrics, recruit a starving local poet.
The final cut, “Visions,” rocks, which is surprising because it’s so out of character with everything else. It has a driving beat, distortion-heavy guitars and a blistering instrumental closer. At 3:52 it ends too quickly, leaving you wanting more. As in, why couldn’t the rest of the album have been like this? From a supergroup of heavy-hitting talents, this is an underwhelming effort. Everything seems deliberate and fine-tuned, but it’s not wild.
There’s a lot of pedigree involved besides the four band members. The producer is Steve Garrington, a frequent Gartman collaborator and the bass player for Low, and his influence might be evident in the simplicity and echo-heavy sound. You can also hear the influence of Brian Frederick Joseph, who recorded the songs in the first half and has worked with Bon Iver. Ever see the Saturday Night Live skit where Bon Iver puts himself to sleep? So might this.
Maybe the band has the Grateful Dead syndrome: the studio albums suck but the live shows are great. I was hoping to catch Glitteratti at Pizza Luce to see how they come alive on stage. I wish the virus would hurry up and go away so we can find out.