Friday 3 May 2024

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong - Day in Time (2024)

Country: USA
Style: Funk Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 26 Apr 2024
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It seems strange, given such a memorable band name, that I haven't heard of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong before, but they've been around since 2009 and this is their seventh album. Clearly I've been missing out. By the way, that name was taken from the description of a scientific experiment in a textbook, but that doesn't mean this is math rock. The Pigeons play funk rock that's almost always driven by the bass of Ben Carrey. The vocals of Greg Ormont are very clean and the sound is often poppy—the earworm chorus in The Town, the obvious single which opens up the album, reminds of Bruno Mars's Uptown Funk—but they also love to jam and I fell into a lot of these guitar solos.

Let's get The Town out of the way quickly, because it's the sort of song that's so infectious that it's easy to just slap that one on repeat and forget that it's actually opening up an album. There are a further ten songs on Day in Time, plus a thirty second outro that sounds like it was ripped from an old and warped cassette. I can't say that any approach The Town on the infectious front, but a few of these songs come close to being as perky, such as the title track and Fall in Place. I had a concert to attend tonight and I had The Town and Day in Time playing in my head all the way there.

Funk rock is usually driven by the bass and Ben Carrey is a thoroughly impressive bedrock for the band to build on. He's there on The Town and Day in Time, of course, but it's impossible to ignore him on Beneath the Surface and Sorcerer, let alone when he's stealing the spotlight with bass solos on tracks like Alright Tonight and Overtime. There are moments dotted here and there on the album, often in the intros to songs, when he doesn't do anything at all and it feels acutely like something's been lost. Fortunately he soon shows up and all is right with the world again.

Once Carrey has set down a bass line, many of these songs are tasked with a pretty basic question as to whether they want to be pop or rock. The more Greg Ormont's vocals nail a melody, the more pop it becomes, whether it's the funk of The Town, the disco of Let the Boogie Out or the reggae of My Own Way. The more Ormont focuses on his guitar and Jeremy Schon joins him—I don't see a credit to divvy up lead and rhythm duties, so I presume they swap them—, the more it turns into a rock album. Just check out Skinner, which doesn't just have the best guitar solo on the album; it's seriously extended because this is a five minute instrumental.

It's how they put those two approaches together to create one sound that makes this band work so well. The clean lines, whether we're talking vocals or guitar, suggest that this is what we might hear if Lenny Kravitz handed his guitar to Eric Clapton and his microphone to Robert Cray. Late in Feelin' Fine, there's a jam that's absolutely glorious but, prior to that, the song is so clean that we'd perhaps be forgiven for assuming that they're aiming for the blandest audience possible—like people who think the sun shines out of Jimmy Buffett's margarita glass—but just can't resist rocking out anyway.

And they rock out a lot here. The Town ought to be too commercial to do that but there's a tasty guitar solo in the second half; Alright Tonight boasts another one; and Day in Time has one more that comes right after a keyboard solo. That's three in three songs and there are a bunch more to enjoy before we get to that instrumental workout on Feelin' Fine eleven tracks in. Add to that an array of extra little touches, like the keyboard flurry late in Day in Time that reminded me of early Marillion; the reggae jangle of the guitars in My Own Way and Fall in Place; or the funky horns in Let the Boogie Out that elevate the whole thing.

It all made me recall a gig review in Kerrang! way back in the late eighties that sent someone to an Allman Brothers gig who clearly had no idea who they were. They fully expected granddad rock and were prepared to sit through it, but they got a blistering jam show instead that utterly blew their mind. That's how I imagine Pigeons Playing Ping Pong gigs to be, with grandmas showing up because they just sound so nice in the background of Murder She Wrote or some such show and hearing tight rocking jams instead that make them question what they've missed over decades.

And I'll shut up now, except to make a note for my future self to figure out what that phrasing is in Overtime that I absolutely recognise but somehow can't place. I listened to a couple of tracks late one evening to see if this was something I'd be up for reviewing. Obviously I was, but what I got on an eleven track album was so much more than I heard in that pair of openers, even though anyone listening to this would have to include The Town as a highlight. I'm one of those, though Skinner is my top pick and Day in Time and Feelin' Fine aren't far behind.

So I may be a little late, but I've caught up with Pigeons Playing Ping Pong and now have six prior albums to seek out. Have you caught up with them yet? You should. Your day will feel better for it.

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