Ten years to the day, The Presidents of the United States of America made their return official with the release of the fantastic Freaked Out and Small.
It was much to my surprise when I saw this album for the first time. I did not realise the band had reformed. Had I known, I could have pre-ordered the album and had my name listed in the liner notes along with hundreds of other!
During my high school days The Presidents of the United States of America, or PUSA, were probably one of my favourite bands. I purchased their self titled debut on tape, and remember listening to it on the school bus, in some sort of portable tape player, and sharing it with a friend.
In the time since the release of II, just shy of four years, time some bands use to release a new album, The Presidents had disbanded (circa early 1998), reformed, and released a new set. However this was not on a major label, this was released on the web based download label Music Blitz (and physical copies distributed via Koch) (Music Blitz went bankrupt a little while later).
If the reason the Presidents disbanded was for lack of creativity, or ideas, they certainly had the mojo flowing for Freaked Out and Small. To this day, The Presidents are still at it (although they disbanded again before the release of Love Everybody (another sweet release!) and now Andrew McKeag has replaced guitarist Dave Dederer).
The album starts off with a bang, almost literally (!), as the first track is “Tiny Explosions”. It rocks out with keys, drums and guitar, before the bass kicks in, all while Chris Ballew is giving instructions to modify the sound accordingly (“less music”, “can I have more vocals”, “more guitar”, etc!). According to Chris, the wah wah effect in his solo “a modified clavinet sound on a Korg X5 that we ran through a preamp and a wah wah pedal”. Chris also reprogrammed his Korg “to customize the sounds and painted it yellow, and wrote ORGATRON on it to disguise the dorkiness of the whole synthesizer feeling”. Said ORGATRON is pictured in the CD booklet!
The album continues to rock all the way through, and even the slower tracks, “Tiger Bomb”, “Superstar”, “Death Star”, and “Headin Out”, manage to do so in their own way. Likely thanks to the well written zany lyrics. Much different from their first two albums, yet the lyrics are still very fun, and entertaining. ‘Fresh’ would be a good single word description.
It is anybody’s guess as to what the lyrics to “Tiny Explosions” are about. I’d guess they are about just plain rocking out. A fitting start to the reformed Presidents. “Tiger Bomb” is about a girl drummer he would like to meet, while dropping some drum terminology (“Oh, she play the drums like a queen Got the prettiest high hat cymbal I’ve ever seen I could fix a broken bass drum beater If I had the courage to go up to her and meet her”). Not only that, Jason Finn makes it a good track for drums. To this day, whenever a song has me tapping my feet to the beat, I think of the following lyric: “She kicked out a beat that made our feet get busy”. After the lyric “A cloud of tom toms that made us all feel dizzy”, the toms get some well placed action! Probably the best song about a crush on a drummer ever! The solo mid song throws in keys, and electric guitar and then what I believe is acoustic guitar.
“Jazz Guy” has some satirical, yet truthful lyrics as well (“I wanna be a jazz guy And play the greatest American music”, “I wanna be a jazz guy And play black music for white people”, “Solo till everyone in the room, is bored”).
“Meanwhile Back in the City” follows a standard song structure, yet tells a story, and is definitely a fun one to sing along to! And of course, “Jupiter” is “pure pure pure pure planet”! This time, possibly up there as one of the best songs about the planet Jupiter!
For the instrument geeks (myself included even if I have yet to learn them), Dave specified that most guitar on the album was done with an SG (Gibson) with P-90 pickups through either his late fifties Deluxe, or a Twin Reverb. And a few parts were played on a newer Telecaster through the same amps.
All in all, a great record without a doubt!
Check out the 2004 reissue for a couple bonus tracks, and demos of several tracks too!
Freaked Out and Small