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band and album reviews

Reptile Palace Orchestra, We Know You Know (Omnium, 2003)

For those of you not herpetologically inclined, an introduction: Reptile Palace Orchestra hail from Madison, Wisconsin and have been infecting listeners with Balkan lounge funk for roughly a decade. The Reptiles return after a four-year recording absence to follow up 1999's Iguana Iguana with We Know You Know, their third album for Omnium. It continues their tradition of blending Balkan folk music, rock, humor, weirdness, and whatever else comes to their minds.

A good example of this tradition is "Apo Laouto." The melody hails from Crete but the performance is all RPO. Layers of sound are piled on top of a plaintive rhythm. Some sitar guitar courtesy of Biff Blumfumgagnge dances around Timm Gould's clarinet as well as cello. As the song slowly meanders along, we get a dash of flute and even didgeridoo which makes for a hypnotizing performance.

The album begins, however, with Anna Purnell's sultry voice cuing Robert Schoville's manic drumming on the opening "Kochari." Although Assyrian in origin, there's plenty of sax and droning guitar to go along with the butt-shaking rhythm. The Reptiles can also make you dance using more conventional means. A cover of the Ides of March's "Vehicle" really moves with Purnell belting out the lyrics while new member Ed Feeny justifies the addition of a bassist to the band. It's the closest they've ever gotten to a straightforward rock song.

The rest of the album is equally varied. Purnell and cellist Seth Blair wrote the vaguely country-inflected "What Do You See." Imagine Ozric Tentacles doing "Far Away Eyes" by the Rolling Stones and you have an idea of what it sounds like. Blair's cello takes over for steel guitar while a cosmic fiddle solo is thrown in for good measure "Bert's Mandotation" is a beautiful, shimmering bit of mandolin written by Blumfumgagnge in tribute to his dying father while "Uranus Sirtez" finds the band in klezmer territory.

On Iguana Iguana the band covered Brian Eno's "Sombre Reptiles." So it is not too surprising that they've included a few minimalist tidbits of their own on We Know You Know. Interspersed among the songs are bite-sized bits of weirdness. Samples of former drummer Siggi Baldursson pounding on the skins are looped while guitarist Bill Feeny and Blumfumgagnge add swirls of feedback and violin. "Earth Lee Julie", a tribute to the actresses who played Catwoman on the old Batman TV series, has a bit of humor with some samples from the show.

"Tune for Ibn Khaldûn Part 2" closes the album in Arabic fashion though it begins in a humorous one. A toy cash register begins chiming in parody of Pink Floyd's "Money" before the didgeridoo returns and then percussion. As the song progresses, everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in including pennywhistle and some Archie Shepp-like sax bursts. With its mélange of instruments and rhythms, the song resembles a rave at a Middle Eastern abattoir.

As a bonus, there are 14 mp3s on the CD. "Devil Went Dow n to Georgia" is transplanted to Plovdiv and there a couple selections from the band's previous Omnium recordings. The bulk of the material, however, is live which is the best way to hear the band. You too can dance as Purnell slithers onstage playing trumpet in a gypsy dance song and Biff culls unearthly noises from his homemade therolin donning a fez all the while.

-- John D. Benninghouse, 11.10.2003

Original Review Link

Band Review

They broke the mold after they made the Reptile Palace Orchestra. There's absolutely no one like them, able to tread freely, humorously, and with great aplomb, around world music, as comfortable with klezmer, Eastern European rhythms, and Maghrebi melodies as they are with a cover of the jazz-rock classic, "Vehicle." That they do it with such a smile of their faces is the icing on the cake, because underneath is some stunning musicianship, easily heard in pieces like the demanding "Sandankso Horo" or the opener, "Kochari."

Even their loops experiments, like “Earth Lee Julie" (how many people dedicate a piece to Catwoman?) and "Super Siggi Deluxe" have a great intelligence working behind the wackiness. There's also a huge sense of adventure in the arrangements -- just like to "Apo Laouto," a Cretan melody that offers the unusual pairing of didgeridoo and cello in the band's version. And how many tunes in a tortuous 9/8 time signature have been written to commemorate the building of a sauna deck, as "Sauna Deck Cocek" was? A complex album that keeps revealin g more joys with each play.

--  Chris Nickson, All Music Guide

   is copyright© 2007, RPO. All rights reserved Worldwide.  
Artwork © 1997-2007 Bill Feeny
All material © 1997-2007 Beeftone Music and DeSelby Productions, Inc.
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