Written by Joshua Britton
Sound the mighty, holy trumpets for Teru’ah as they return with Mad Kids in the Holy City, their follow-up to 2006’s Calvin Names the Mountain. Teru’ah is Mike Cades, residing in Brooklyn, and John Killeen, who lives in Asheville. Finally firmly planted in their respective cities, the stability has provided the duo with a clearer vision for this album and, therefore, finely-executed tracks again reminiscent of 70’s soft rock, early 80’s punk and the 90’s alternative scene the two grasped a hold of in order to survive through the decade. Their first effort out, while produced together in Maryland, was a collection of songs mainly performed entirely by each of them alone, save for some overdubs and a few live takes. This LP, however, found the two writing alone but collaborating on every song via mail or visits, and inviting many more people to contribute drums.
Present are the two-minute odes to loved ones that populated the first album: opener “Postcard to Meg” and the lullaby “So Long, Little Mouse” are like bookends to a bittersweet story, and “Stephanie” is aptly named, as it seems like a Velvet Underground B-side. Here, too, are the amazing surprises in time shift and melody: “In a plane o’er Niger”, the surfiest of the rockers, is another song you’d expect to be two minutes, straight-forward in its rockabilly easiness. But something happens. When Killeen sings I’ll snap on my radio, there’s literally a snap of his fingers and what sounds like an old French tune from the 1930’s comes pouring out of a Victorola. This intermission ends in luscious oohs and ahhs coming in from outer space, then cracks back into the present to complete the beginning jam. These types of interferences made the first album disjointed, but here the songs are whole, and it helps the album sound intended rather than a pasting together of recordings made in solitary.
While Ter’uah’s new songs provide a fresh feeling to their unique combination of styles, they also seem to have culled some songs from their past: “Billy Makes a Rough Mix” sounds a lot like Mike’s first solo disc released under the name Anthony Tutelli, both in structure and production (though the use of reverb at the end is pristine), and “The Prairie” recalls the duo’s previous band, the less-accessible Steel Point Archery Club, with the opening riff sounding like some marriage of Neil Young and Pixies. However out of place “The Prairie” might be, it sets up a beautiful juxtaposition for the next song, “Edward”. From its banjo opening to the amazing horn outro, it’s the crown jewel of the album. Never has Mike’s vocals exited so serenely from his mouth as they do throughout this song, the bass work is downright flawless, and the live horn section (perfectly arranged and co-executed by Greg Glassman) howls like a burning scarecrow.
There are still certain songs that take patience; after all, you can’t expect a smorgasbord to be full of everything you like. Part of the melody from “Interlude” reminds me of “A Groovy Kind of Love” by Phil Collins, which is weird, and the jangliness of “Somewhere Uptown” gets a bit tired if you can’t hang for the subtleties like hand claps and harmonious aches. But songs like “Long-winded Mockingbird B” and “The Miracle of Cars” save the album from its meanderings; they’re perfect pop ballads and Shins-like sing-a-longs. One could even imagine “Spanish Music for Easy Listening” being featured as a bridge during NPR segments, or “John Vincent Moon” used in a Jared Hess movie. The album ends (like the first album) with a Southern rock number, though “City Song” has less to do with the Reverend Horton Heat and shares a bed more with Lynyrd Skynyrd. And that shouldn’t scare you — just replace the masochism and Confederate pride with communion and acceptance of things past, both of which describe the majority of this LP — especially since the last thing heard is a bird singing. All in all, this album will not be ignored, particularly by anyone with a wide appreciation for song structure, melody and experimentation.
Best lines of Mike’s:
“The comeback never comes in time”;
“Do your passions give way to the chores of the day?”;
“It’s a pirate’s life for me / sails both aft and fro / each memory a slave upon the shore”;
“Oh, the pleasures of amplifiers and strings / It’s God’s voice that’s speaking when I sing.”
Best lines of John’s:
“Time wore you out and I don’t doubt that it was good to even have a chance”;
“You’ve a mighty sword, you’ve a mighty catapult / archangelic wings, something to destory us both”;
“Something tells me I’m going to be one of those guys with the RayBans on.”
1. Postcard to Meg
2. The Miracle of Cars
4. In a plane o’er Niger
5. John Vincent Moon
6. So Long, Little Mouse
7. The Prairie
8. Edward Receives a Letter From an Old Friend
9. Spanish Music for Easy Listening
10. Billy Makes a Rough Mix
12. Somewhere Uptown
13. Long-winded Mockingbird B
14. City Song