Radio FuseboxBy Fred Choi
ASSOCIATE ARTS EDITOR
In a recent interview for PlanetOut Andy Stochansky compared his approach to assembling the order of the songs on his album Radio Fusebox to “making dinner for somebody.” With Radio Fusebox Stochansky has truly prepared an aural feast like none other. An amazing achievement, he does not just create songs, he creates luminous worlds that range from the intimate to the symphonic. The album is honest, moving, virtuosic, and filled with wonderfully tangible textures and moments of crystalline beauty. Although not flawless, Radio Fusebox is certainly one of the most impressive albums of the past year in terms of its scope, consistency, and quality, and although many will initially find his sound to be confusing because it is so unfamiliar, any efforts made to listen to it will soon be well-rewarded as Stochansky has proven himself to be one of the scant few artists who has the ability to create truly beautiful songs.
The first and most accessible track on Radio Fusebox is “Fly.” The song forms the link between Stochansky’s first album, While You Slept, and his second. The former contains music that is generally easier to grasp and shows more of a connection with his work with punk-folk artist and long-time collaborator Ani DiFranco: “Fly” features rhythmic percussion and catchy vocals that is more prevalent on Slept than Fusebox. However, this song is also characteristic of the other songs on the album in its idiosyncratic music and lyrics, and in its musical structure, which conscientiously plays with the traditional verse-chorus-bridge form. Stochansky, a percussionist by trade, plays a wonderful variety of percussion, including marimba, drums, sinks, abd shakers, and also creates the drum loops on the song “Arrest.” Although the percussion is, unsurprisingly, a vastly important part of the texture of each song, it is sensitively integrated such that it rarely overpowers or diverts attention from the purport of the song.
The second track, “Poem for a Small Boy on an Amtrack Train” is a more typical example of the songs that appear on Fusebox. This hypnotic track and others like it, such as the stunning “Insect,” the sparse “Lake Alaska 4:00 a.m.,” and the pointed “Talk Show (Letter to a Friend),” are more difficult to grasp than “Fly,” and demand one’s full attention, but have commendable traits that soon become apparent. It is easy to see the influence of the Estonian religious minimalist Arvo Part, whom Stochansky has mentioned in these powerful, serene tracks.
It is in these songs that one’s attention is drawn more to the lyrics, and like Stochansky’s music they are so unique that one’s initial reaction is to discredit them. Cynics might even go so far as to call them amateur or trite, but that is hardly accurate. The novelty of the lyrics on Fusebox lies in their construction, in that they are comprised of simple words but combined in a strange mix of the vernacular and the poetic, with such colorful yet cryptic lines as “My lies were naked lying down / palms wide open / so they could spit,” from “Arrest” and such direct and unassuming lines as “When you’re on your own / do you ever hear her? / ’Cause she talks to you / yes she talks to you,” from “Talk Show.” Although there are moments throughout the album where one wishes that they were more focused, in general the lyrics are appropriate and highly effective.
The group of songs that rounds out the album are spikier and more forceful, and include such tracks as “Arrest,” which is full of urgency and which features a drum loop that makes the listener hope for a Bjork/Stochansky collaboration in the future, and “She Detuned the Orchestra and Left the Room,” an intense song that lurches about uneasily. Both tracks feature the excellent Bill Brennan on keyboards, whose presence is vital to the album. Although Andy’s collaborators on the album vary widely from track to track, the presence of such artists as Brennan and Adrian Lawryshyn on bass provide a better sense of consistency.
The final track, “She Sang,” is a nice, upbeat dessert to cleanse the palate and round out Radio Fusebox. Andy Stochansky has moved from playing with such artists as Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls, and Barenaked Ladies, to successfully achieving his goal of “reinventing himself,” and in doing so has created a masterpiece. He has molded each of his nine songs with the precision of a sculptor and each listen only reveals more of the album’s details and more of his talent. Radio Fusebox is available at <http://www.andystochansky.com>. In addition, Stochansky will be performing tomorrow night, February 9, at the Middle East (427 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA). And for the musical conoisseur who will be hearing Andy Stochansky’s work for the first time I just have one comment: Bon apetit