I was planning to review the third album from John Diva and the Rockets of Love today, but I found myself digging too far into why it underwhelmed me to quickly acknowledge that, if I wrote a review, it would be the sort of negative review I try to avoid. Instead, I checked out a few others and came up short until this one, from a band from Milan who play an interesting form of garage rock. I came close to ditching this one too, because the opener, Santa Claus, doesn't start out like that at all, its approach more like an attempt to merge Tom Waits and Shane MacGowan into a cool unique voice. And that's fine, but it wasn't what I was looking for.
However, I didn't turn it off because I was interested to see where the album went, and it went in a very different direction a couple of minutes in and especially once Killing Floor showed up. This is where the garage rock kicks in, with a drummer who sounds like he only has three drums in his kit but he's happy to beat the crap out of each of them for us. The vocals are still deliberately whiskey soaked but far more emphatic and driving melodies rather than singer/songwriter introspections. The guitar rocks and the kazoo... well, let's just say that it sounds very much like someone's playing a kazoo here and I sure ain't judging because it sounds great, like a bunch of interesting musicians jamming in their garage.
As the album goes, it sounds like the band shift further backwards in time. Supersonic ditches the kazoo but keeps everything else and feels primal, like something the Sonics might have recorded a lot more decades ago now than is comfortable to think about. It's a Gimmick emphasises that they like looking back, because it sounds like a fifties pop song rocked up in loud but simplistic fashion, a sort of Dion & The Belmonts type of song. It feels unusual because whoever the lead vocalist is in One Horse Band sings the verses but leaves the chorus to a backing singer. Also it heavies up when we don't expect, which is another tasty touch.
As you might expect for garage rock, there's a punk sound here too and that's clear once we get to Useless Propaganda and Hello Charlie. That rough voice suggests traditional punk influences but a post-punk mindset in the melodies. I hear the Clash here, both original first album sound and later adventures beyond it. Of course, this isn't the only layer, because Useless Propaganda ends with a sort of Supremes refrain and Hello Charlie adds a trumpet to give it a more avant-garde edge. It's a heady mixture and it highlights how much energy there must be in One Horse Band's garage on rehearsal nights.
Now, the energy does drop at points for effect, because One Horse Band aren't a one trick pony. In Ice Cream, the power is stripped away in a flash to leave the singer returning to the Waits whisper on the opener, set against a loud slow blues backdrop, and I Sing opens up with a delicate folk tune that sounds like it's being played in a hip coffee house, before it launches into full on garage punk, just to shock the hipsters sipping their expensive artisan coffees. A Little More is delicate too, but it stays that way, even as it builds. It showcases a different side of the band but it's effective. What I find strange here is that I wasn't sold on the quiet voice on Santa Claus but I love it on Ice Cream and A Little More.
What this all adds up to is that, if I was wandering past the One Horse Band garage during one of their rehearsals, I'd absolutely stop and listen. I wouldn't think they were anything special initially, just good at what they do, but, as time would pass and song would move to song, my estimation of their worth would continue to increase. There's a lot more on this album than the initial approach suggests and it's all tasty stuff.
And, all that said, I've probably misled you, because the key word in One Horse Band isn't Band but One. That's because there's only one musician here, ignoring the trumpet Tom Moffet contributes to Hello Charlie, and he's called One Horse Band because he wears a fake horse head everywhere public, in the same way that Buckethead wears a fried chicken bucket. Oh, and yes, he performs as a one man band in the sense that he plays multiple instruments at the same time on stage. That's why the drum sound is so simple. And this is his third album.
So, what's his name and what's he's hiding? I haven't the faintest idea, but he sounds great. Which famous musicians live in Milan but are never seen at One Horse Band shows? Inquiring minds want to know.