Ba Da Bing!
he idea of a long-player as one extended piece of music is one traditionally found more often in electronic, ambient, or experimental music. Songs waltz into one another, their endings frequently signaled by nothing more than a moment of silence and an up-tick on the “track” display. This is in contrast to the rock and pop worlds, both of which still seem to place great emphasis on obvious differentiation between tracks. It’s a fine way to carry on, but there’s plenty to be gained in creating prolonged atmosphere and mood. On his Colossal Yes debut, Acapulco Roughs, Utrillo Kushner brandies typical rock instrumentation, but aims brilliantly for a unified sound, blending his 70’s AM influences into a gauzy, intrepid whole.
Kushner normally pounds the skins for rock apes Comets on Fire, and his decidedly leaner, calmer approach here will likely put off fans who tune into Comets solely for their archaic blast. Acapulco Roughs, while a decidedly gentler, less-rocking affair, is no damning change of direction, no concession to greater evils, etc. Kushner is a longtime pianist, and his evocative ivory lines and strained tenor lend Acapulco Roughs a magnetism and romance that far exceeds its humble ingredients.
Kushner’s voice takes some getting used to, sounding at first slightly out of key, and tonally out of place. But it’s a grower, and his pitched, elastic melodies aim for 70’s rock nirvana, a destination confirmed by his buoyant, restrained playing. Kushner tackles the keys with yeoman purpose, serving the song first, but his moderation on the skins is especially commendable, especially given his full-time gig.
It is Kushner’s unique voice, his untenable melodies, and a sameness of languid tempo that forces Acapulco Roughs to be swallowed whole, ignoring the ultimately ancillary distinctions between tracks. It’s not that Kushner makes no effort to spice up his songs—check the playful, horn-heavy intro to “A Fig for Misfortune” or the crying guitar that slices up “A Titan’s Buffet”—it’s just that if you sliced any one of these tracks down the center, you’d end up with a loping piano, Spartan kit, and Kushner’s calming song. Given the somewhat silly song titles (peep “The Honeycreeper Smiles” or “The Ass and the Ophir”), the lyrics likely aim for the same pysch-rock territory his Comets pedigree might suggest, but they’re mostly unintelligible in the throes of melody, forcing Kushner’s voice into visceral tone exercises.
This “every song sounds the same” argument has been used to damn countless LPs, but Acapulco Roughs succeeds because album-length vision is so rare in the rock world. And while albums exploring subtle variations in mood and theme are not difficult to locate, hearing this process occur under traditional rock instrumentation is refreshing. Once the overall sound of this disc bores into your head, Kushner’s alterations become important. He routs down-tempo funk into “O’Crocus Shall Be Raised,” slowly pogoes beats on “Poor Boy’s Zodiac,” and slyly inserts extra chords on “There’s Red Dirt in Wine.”
“O’Crocus” is the closest Acapulco Roughs comes to presenting a standout track, but Kushner doesn’t ever miss, either, swabbing harmonica, organ, horns, and guitar over his tracks, never really detracting from his core sound. Kushner’s execution is pure enough to support this kind of uniformity, and his style is what ultimately drives Acapulco Roughs, an album that becomes more familiar and nuanced with increased listens, to retain its unique vigor. Acapulco Roughs is AM rock blended, spread and refreshed.