¿Como se dice “run the gamut” en espanol?
Not to judge an album by its cover, but…judging Ocho by its cover: for better or worse your looking at polarities. Pluses and minuses.
This diversity is evident by the album’s Spanglish lingua franca: Bienvenidos to How ‘Bout Them Rules??
Likewise, the feel of the music may shift within a single song, or even verse: from brawny saloon music to daytime TV catharsis/self-loathing (see Ain’t It Sad).
A superfluity of influences pops each of their heads up like lemmings on the mesa landscape Patrick Phelan has painted: from John Lennon to The Band and the Beach Boys to Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Blitzen Trapper and Dr. Dog.
It’s equally likely that a song’s going to be primarily about a prep school kid, a penpal or some shepherd to corral it all back together and carry that load; in “space,” Colorado, at the Cat’s Cradle, or in Venice.
Frontman Phelan seems to relish in this exercise: subjecting even his own persona to the drill. He effortlessly ranges from lunatic to heretic to Most Interesting Man in the World, without ever breaking character, or really even letting on that there are characters in play.
All this roaming isn’t aimless though. Perhaps the cipher for the whole thing comes in the seemingly harmless instrumental track that bisects the album, +/-. Without this track, you may get lost. You may migrate from the wacky world created by Ocho. +/- instead holds it all together. It gives some of the best players around a chance to flex their muscles. It tinges the rest of the record with a subtlety and confidence that might otherwise go unnoticed. It provides the punch line to some of the album’s jokes: they meant to do this. The textures and personality created by Phelan and produced Jeff Crawford mean as much if not more than the actual lyrics or the song structures. This is not a hodgepodge or a bunch of disparate clips from spaghetti westerns and Corona commercials, it is a world to be stepped into.
So maybe the C batteries on the cover are a fitting. After all, these brilliantly mundane “jumping-buddies” manage to house some real spunk. Like this record, they work and get their punch from holding it all together.