Just about a year ago, I was releasing my book Ghost Songs on the world with a rock n roll concert at Last Exit Live. Phoenix New Times had credited me with possibly inventing a new fiction genre. My writer friends in Tucson were all looking at me with concern, “a book release at a rock concert? Are you sure you know what you are doing?” The show was an awesome success! Two of my guests that night were James Taylor and Travis Prillaman, of Chrome Rhino. Both of the lads bought my book, and Travis just about jumps up and down with glee every time he sees me to ask me questions and pick my brain. So, it really should come then as no surprise, that here we are a year later, Chrome Rhino is set to release their fun, Halloween themed, debut single from their as of now untitled upcoming album on October 20th, and Ghost Writer has an advance copy so that I can tell you all about it!
Three local Phoenix acts come to mind when trying to introduce you to Chrome Rhino. I bring each of them up for a specific reason in the comparison. First, Bear Ghost. Bear Ghost is the local act that has this amazing flair for mixing in Nintendo samples and video game tones to their keys. When they do this they are immediately able to conjure Disney and Mario dreams. Jared Michael, keys for Chrome Rhino, also makes dramatic use of the keyboard, and uses similar tones, but instead of evoking a video game memory, they take us back to something long past.
80s ballads on the radio, and a time when the keyboard was king, not in terms of synth sound effects, but as a medium of melody. Also similar to Bear Ghost is the horror theme of the songs and lyrics. But the two bands do not come off as derivative of each other. Chrome Rhino has a very different feel and energy from Bear Ghost, and their songs do not take you to the same place. Bear Ghost might make you have Minecraft meets the Necromancer dreams, but Chrome Rhino takes you to the Horror Cinema.
The second local band that I could easily see sharing a bill with Chrome Rhino is Sliced Limes. Both evoke comparisons to 80s acts like Spandau Ballet, Tears for Fears, or Human League in terms of their mixed use of instruments and sounds. A further comparison to these bands is their vocal quality, strong, baritone, but beautiful and unforced lyrics. James, Jared and Travis all share vocal leads on the record, but they very much evoke that same quality of voice. In fact, if Max Rowles (Sliced Limes) reminds me of Joe Jackson, then James-Jared-Travis reminds me of Tony Hadley.
When we are discussing the renewed love modern music has found for electronic music, you have harmony driven melodies or synthetic/ industrial sound effects. This would be the difference between a synth band like Depeche Mode and a band like ‘Til Tuesday.
The third band at my virtual album release show would be Radio Blonde. Both groups exude this Lounge Lizard, Leisure Suit Larry, 70s Disco, confidence and swagger that plays really well today. There is this tongue in cheek, camp quality to their show, that is exactly the kind of humor that finds a place in our world today. Humor that knows how to laugh at itself, not take itself too seriously, and own it in a way that makes that throwback entertaining, freeing, and a great night out – rather than a night where Saturday Night Fever is supposed to be relevant.
A new edition to Chrome Rhino is their drummer, Jay Ryan. I have yet to be able to see this band live. There was a chance, right before the plague shut it all down, but things were already getting dicey. I have however, seen Ali A & the Agency several, several times, and the antics of Travis Prillaman as he noodles away on his guitar like a long last cousin to the Animanics is one of my favorite musicians in this town. I am very excited to see Chrome Rhino live, when the world starts making sense.
I love this guy! He is genuine, friendly, humble beyond belief, and he can make you wish you could do scales in your sleep. Basically….. c’mon Phoenix, it’s Travis… you know this already, but what I am dying to see is the combination of Travis and James on dueling guitars!
What Chrome Rhino is able to do, and what I have tried to kind of recreate for you here, is take the themes you would normally expect to hear in a rock n roll record. Love, Sex, Drugs, Strange Occurrences…. but it does this by mashing those themes up like a Monster Mash. You can do the mash…… The Monster Mash….. and again, I can hear this like a voice over from the shadows as we all wait in the dark before the heavy red curtain at Last Exit Live, and wait for the madness to start in my dreamed up reality of the Chrome Rhino Release Show.
As I was listening to each song on the record, I immediately latched on to the character from horror mythology that the boys were playing with, and then tried to give you a snippet of where that song took my mental movie. It is a fun way to think about associative ideas. The first single, Zombie Vision, from this record comes out on 10/20, and I really think you will love it, and if you are watching these video clips going, What On Earth?! then I know you will.
If I have a negative critique about any of the songs, it is that a couple of them feel a bit long. Especially the first song, I Love You, But I Know You’re a Robot. It is a good tune, but I felt it could have been cut back. However, for any bit of mind wandering that may come along with track one is immediately snapped back with the very catchy Swamp Daddy.
However, the real strength of this record, is in the meat of it. Dig into the middle of this juicy little concept album, and you will find the real treasure songs. The first single, Zombie Vision is just fantastic. It makes me get all Human League and Oingo Boingo all at once, and I love the lyrics. In fact, this song alone could put these guys on a bill with Tucson’s synth legends Gentlemen After Dark, and that show would be amazeballs!
One of my favorite books of all time is Huxley’s Brave New World, and my favorite Nick Cage movie is Vampire’s Kiss. Chrome Rhino…. if your final two tracks can take me there….. you win. Hands down.
Folks, I know, I am a horror guy, and this album is a sure fire win for the guy who weaves music into a new literary genre. However, this record is a lot of fun. I can imagine Bob Hoag just smiling away over there at Flying Blanket Studios dreaming of all of the awesome old school horror movie soundtracks he has on vinyl. Yeah…. this record kinda makes you feel like a kid again, running down the street right before sundown with your plastic pumpkin and your vinyl costume from the variety store. Laughing, jumping, staying up way too late and watching old creepy movies, and eating way too much candy with the Ghouls and the Goblins. Thank you Chrome Rhino, thank you for taking me there.