Tautologic’s hard to peg vibe demands a phrase I like to use when I’m intrigued and engaged by a recording, yet I realize it’s stylistically all over the map and sometimes a challenge to follow: joyful schizophrenia. You will no doubt be titillated but also a bit perplexed if you listen to the Chicago based ensemble’s trippy crazily eclectic, high energy, symphonic, bluesy, rock opera-like, sometimes “showtuney,” jazzy-funky album Re:Psychle without some historical context.
So here’s the cool origin story: The band began in 1997 when Ethan Sellers (vocals, keyboards, guitar) and Pat Buzby (drums) were fresh out of college. Sellers was forming a new band with friends from the University of Chicago when Buzby responded to an ad Sellers placed on a progressive rock discussion group. Their initial goal was to fuse their passion for 70s progressive rock with an array of contemporary influences. They were gigging and recording with their initial lineup by the following year.
Sellers spent 12 years living in Hyde Park, documenting local stories about addiction and mental illness, which led him to explore veteran’s issues, the idea of religious belief in a secularizing society, conspiracy theories, materialism, mental health, celebrity culture and the need to reconnect with nature. In 2005, the bad premiered their second multi-media piece, featuring the songs on Re:Psychle, in a unique performance at the University of Chicago Festival of the Arts. They did a full on recording in 2006, but the double whammy of having no promotional budget and the Great Recession delayed its release – till now.
All that said, how is the material? Bizarre yet compelling, fresh and fascinatingly cool as all that would lead us to expect. The quirky sartorial commentary “Loud Shoes” begins with a symphonic overture before hitting the punkish hook and intensifying rock/soul vibe. The simmering pop/rocker “Not If But When” reminds us that we can still aspire to greatness even in middle age. Who can argue with such optimism? Next we enter a darker, semi atonal zone to hear a list of classic government conspiracy theories (“The Admiral”) and about weird genetic experiments (“The Professor”) before we swing back up to peppier numbers with South African grooves and Irish jig flavors. Sellers & Company enter Paul Simon “Graceland” territory for a hilarious but pointed screed about litter and human obstacles on the Lake Shore Drive bikepath, then bounce around gleefully telling the tale of returning Vietnam vet “Dan Dan The Whistle Man” on “The Whistler.
One of the most infectious pieces is “The Choirboy,” a spirited romp about hopping on that bike and getting away from it all, and jazz fans will gravitate (perhaps first!) to “Coltrane Supermarket,” a poppy piano driven jaunt to a place where “you can wash away your blues” and “you can die too young to live.” You may spend a lot of time trying to dissect Tautologic’s lyrics and trying to identify all the styles they’ve been influenced by. It’s music that seems fun and lighthearted on the surface, but once it seeps in, it really makes you think about the world around you.