Sometimes presentation is used to paper over the cracks. Take for example Kiss’ make up (there’s no argument here, Kiss are rubbish), Motley Crue’s levitating/rotating/flying drum kit, or GG Allin’s poo. All glorious schtick that sticks long in the memory way beyond the songs themselves. On other occasions, presentation overrides the merit of a musician’s endeavours. Thomas Truax fits perfectly into this second category.
With his array of homemade instruments, Truax makes an impression with his unusual band of simplistic robotic supporting cast and is without a doubt one of the most entertaining live performers around at the moment. The question is whether or not he can overcome the notion that he’s just “the guy with those mental instruments”.
On record of course, the visual elements of his live show have no bearing on the listener whatsoever. It all comes down to the Thomas Truax the musician, not Thomas Truax the performer.
As anyone who picked up David Lynch inspired album will attest, Truax is a perfectly wonderful artist in his own right. So while the likes of Mother Superior, and the hornicator are present on Sonic Dreamer they are not the stars of the show. On record, Truax is the warranted star attraction for the most part.
Opening up with the woozy hum of ‘Beehive Heart’, Truax starts strongly. An array of disarming noises form an uneasy structure for him to tell his tale of bad luck and disorganisation. Come the chorus however, everything finds its right place and his doo-wop howl hits home perfectly.
‘It’s All Happening Now’ is a perky little number that pulls on early rock ‘n’ roll and elements of pre-historic garage as it skitters along firing out jumbled imagery. Searing harmonica, and wiry guitars clash nicely as his robotic sidekicks fire out charming scampering back beats.
There’s a childish simplicity to Truax’s lyrics which can sometimes grate, were it not for their wonky surroundings. Sometimes there’s a tweety bird in a tree, occasionally he’s down by a river chatting to his liver, or he’s looking for a tale from an elderberry. Even if he’s contemplating broken relationships or the state of his brain there’s a quirky delivery that lightens the mood even when it would be better to keep things a bit more straight. ‘It Always Rains on Sundays’ suffers somewhat from this but the lilting melodies and smattering of stronger images than a liver chin-wag make for an evocative heady mix.
The experimental side of Truax’s approach doesn’t always work. ‘The Cannibals Have Kidnapped Our Nicole Kidman’ might have a great title, but the tubular industrial sounds come across flat and surprisingly lacks invention. For the most part though, Sonic Dreamer is full of clever ideas and wonderful melodies. ‘Post Post Post Modern’ is a noisy sprint through a hyper-coloured landscape with a wonderful sign off punching in at the end. Balancing on a Bouncing Wire mixes smart melody with the kind atmospherics that David Lynch would be proud of, whilst the creeping oddness of ‘Sonic Dreamer’ oozes its way into the ears like one of those worm things from Cronenberg’s Shivers.
Ultimately Sonic Dreamer is an interesting album showing Truax as an experimental artist and musician capable of writing some really great songs. Whether he’ll ever shake off the association with his robot pals remains to be seen but it would be nice to hear of him referred to as “the guy that wrote that song about raining on Sundays” rather than “the one who sticks his head in that horn thing”.