Hunger's Teeth is probably the best place to start for a symphonic prog fan trying to get into RIO. This is not to say that the album sounds much like symphonic prog, which would be very surprising given drummer and composer Dave Kerman's distaste for the genre. There are a few reference points in common, though.
I'm not the first to suggest this album as an intro to RIO for the symph fan. The suggestion is made constantly on rec.music.progressive, usually accompanied by a reference to vocalist Bob Drake, and how much he sounds like Jon Anderson of Yes. Personally, I don't hear the similarity nearly as much here as I do on his solo album What Day Is It?. The two singers might have similar ranges, but they only sound the same on occasion; Yes fans might hear something familiar in the more stripped down, melodic sections of "Geronimo," or the opening of "Opportunity Bangs," but Anderson wouldn't be caught dead singing the way Drake does at the end of "Well...Not Chickenshit" (nasal and pinched) or "Glue" (distorted and out of tune).
For me, what makes Hunger's Teeth a good starting point is simply that it's fairly accessible, but without sacrificing any of the juicy stuff that makes RIO fun. While many of the original RIO bands wrote extended instrumental compositions, these are really rock songs, only one exceeding six minutes in length. They are generally vocal oriented (but not lyric oriented, which is good, because Kerman's lyrics leave something to be desired), and most have passages of relative consonance amid the noise and atonality. Many of the tunes are more chromatically modal than they are truly atonal. Certain familiar textures from symphonic prog show up occasionally, like the digital piano figurations in "Well...Not Chickenshit," the almost lush textures at the end of "Roan," and the almost satirical use of that symph cliché, the Heavily Accented Chord, on the word "offspring" in "Opportunity Bangs." As those of you who have read my profile know, I'm not much of a symph fan, so the fact that I love this album is a testament to the fact that these elements are not overdone, and probably not even intentional.
Actually, it is the interplay between accessibility and inaccessibility that makes this album really interesting. While most of the songs are quite likable at first listen (assuming you're used to highly chromatic, dissonant music), they don't fall into the trap of being overly clear, which means that it takes many listens to uncover everything that's going on in the music. Many songs contrast downright pretty passages with all-out noisefests; the most obvious example is "Geronimo," which ranges from a subtle combination of quiet vocals, percussion and electronic organ to total polyrhythmic chaos. "Truth, Justice and the American Way," too, precedes the rhythmically displaced but fairly tuneful rock of its final section with something that can only be described as an extremely nasal, atonal Beach Boys with digital keyboards.
These contrasts are really the result of the spirit of playful experimentation that pervades the whole album. Sometimes the band seems to be just trying things out, which gives us Drake's barbershop song about barbers, "The Shears," and a short minimalist electronic piece by Thomas DiMuzio called "Mangate." This willingness to try a lot of different things gives Hunger's Teeth a wonderful textural variety, unlike the other album from Kerman/Kumar/Drake lineup of the 5uu's, 1997's Crisis in Clay. At the same time, Kerman's compositional style is very distinctive, so it holds together nicely, even when Susanne Lewis takes over to sing the last two songs. Her style, much less emotional than Drake's, fits perfectly on top of the dissonant rock-out of "Traveler Waits for No One," and the album goes out with a bang.
Lineup:Sanjay Kumar - keyboards, etc. Dave Kerman - drums, guitars, keyboards, etc. Bob Drake - vocals, basses, guitars, violins, etc. with: Susanne Lewis - vocals James Grigsby - guitar, vibes, bass Michelle Bos - utensils, penny fountain, skydiving ocarinas, metal tables, creaks, blue rocks
This review was written by Alex Temple [October 2001]. Read here: