The Striped Bananas - 'Cosmic Carnival'

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

I’ll be entirely honest - When approaching this evening’s Independent Spotlight feature, I was somewhat skeptical of whether or not this band’s production would be tolerable. Typically, when an outfit self-describes themselves as a “DIY Psych Band,” I’m in for quite a romp through ‘lo-fi’ production and unintelligible mumbling over whammy pedals. That’s because indie psych bands have a penchant for being stereotypically bad. Fortunately, The Striped Bananas defy every single one of those stigmas and have put out a record so worth checking out.

Hailing from Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Striped Bananas] latest studio endeavor, ‘Cosmic Carnival,’ is their junior full-length effort. It’s a joyful journey through good feelings, psychedelic and alternative musings, and infectious songwriting. That journey kicks off with ‘Bad Hand Mackenzie,’ a perfectly good track, but really ignites on ‘Girl You Got Me Feeling Alright.’ That latter tune is the single for the record, a tune also available in very limited quantities on colored vinyl via the band’s BandCamp. It feels a bit like a mixture between the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Peppers’ and the Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds.’ In other words, it’s bloody wonderful and a pleasure to spend time with.

As aforementioned, DIY psychedelic music tends to have terrible production quality; it’s a trope that’s become somewhat signature to this specific subgenre of indie music. The Striped Bananas, however, sound spectacular, and the multitudes of instruments they’ve jammed into the tracks do not go unnoticed. It’s just three guys, but goodness, they make quite a sound. Even on the seemingly simplistic songs like ‘Reaching For Love,’ the sound is chock-full of wonderful intricacies and creativity.

Now, there are two tracks I absolutely adore entitled ‘Runaway.’ One is by Kanye West, the other is by Del Shannon. When I spun the Striped Bananas’ song of the same name, I was not expecting a cover of either. But, much to my surprise, and delight, it actually is a Del Shannon cover! This is one of the best Del Shannon covers I’ve ever heard - I love the raw sound and authenticity of this homage. It stays very true - all the way through that incredible organ riff - but it’s darker, moodier, and shoddier. I mean that last adjective in a complementary fashion - You don’t want to be as polished as Del Shannon. The Striped Bananas make it their own. This is the second best cover of the song I’ve heard right behind the Traveling Wilburys’ version.

‘Life Goes On’ continues to flesh out ‘Cosmic Carnival’ in a grand fashion, crafting a bombastic sound you may have heard out of a Cream record gone a bit [more] psychedelic. “Life goes on until you die,” the band optimistically croons over a varied soundscape completely enveloped by the remarkable instrumental chemistry between the trio. ‘Captain Merwin’ continues to venture deeper into the chasm of the band’s influence with droning, flat vocals.

Those vocals are something I have been critical of in the past - A trend popularized by the Grateful Dead, psych and prog rock bands have a tendency to dig flat vocalists. The Striped Bananas do fall into that trope at times, but it’s endearing with them. After spinning ‘Cosmic Carnival’ thrice through, I think I figured out why, too. Their songs are catchy, succinct, and don’t feel ostentatious like so many of their genre counterparts. I don’t have to listen to them aimlessly drone for ten minutes. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. They’re out of there in four minutes or less. That’s what makes tracks like ‘Feel It Now’ enjoyable when they have the potential to devolve into mundane oblivion.

More sitar and falsetto vocals! That’s what you were calling for on this record, right? No? Well, you’re going to get it anyway. ‘Open Eyes’ is a bizarre hit-miss. The falsetto pieces are cringeworthy, and cross that aforementioned line of endearment. The instrumentation, however, is some of the most intriguing on the album. The actual composition of ‘Open Eyes’ is stunning.

It took me a few spins of ‘She’s Free’ to figure out who exactly the lead vocalist sounds like. Then, it hit me. Many times throughout this album, that vocalist and The Striped Bananas have an uncanny resemblance to the cult-star of Saddle Creek Records, Jake Bellows. ‘She’s Free’ sounds like a track right off the cutting room floor of a Neva Dinova record, which is a huge compliment, because Neva Dinova is one of the best kept secrets of the independent community. Finally, ‘The Carnival’ closes the album elegantly and beautifully.

I love everything about this record, and as this blog and its readers can attest, that’s not something I say often. Go pick it up, and get that vinyl single before they sell out. (But not before I order one for myself and one for my psychedelic rock-loving girlfriend.) This is a band that has massive potential and their sound is absolutely exceptional.