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* “The Steampunk Chronicle” Reviews “A Sepiachord Passport”

December 14, 2010 by Veronique Chevalier

Travels With the Sepiachord Passport
by DoctorQ

For those who are unfamiliar, I must take a moment to tell you all of the wonderful folks of Sepiachord. Cpt. Jordan Bodewell (aka Jordan Block) and his crew of fellow musicians on this collection scour the length and breadth of the ether and broadcast the strange and wonderful findings to all who visit their port of call,

As an arranger of musical oddities myself, I must say that this place is a regular travel destination for me, and so when they produced the Sepiachord Companion anthology last year, I grabbed it and was delighted. Thus, I have eagerly awaited this year’s audio collection – A Sepiachord Passport – and I am happy to say it did not disappoint. 

Some artists on the collection I was well familiar with. Others only from Cpt. Bodewell’s website, making this compilation one of the few ways I knew to acquire such new and unique sounds. So while the album is billed a passport, my only real criticism is that it still felt decidedly like the travels were simply around America, with the occasional jaunt to the U.K. for a few tracks. Though after opening the cover, I have to say I was very impressed with the interior design and look of the CD as a whole. Very clever, and with that I was ready to disembark.

It opens with “Roll Up” by the Tiger Lilies, which is notable as the band is rarely ever on compilations. Walter Sickert and His Army of Broken Toys’ addition of “Off With Her Head!” informs the ear of the quirky, enjoyable, and sometimes spooky songs to come. Bakelite 78’s slow tempo “Aurora Ave Motel” was a quick visit from this band I’ve heard so much about, and it simply made me wish for a more extended stay. Next, Bat Country’s “Knockin’ On My Coffin” picked up the pace and was easily among my favorite selections on the compilation. “Thief Song” by Miss Mammie Lavona The Exotic Mulatta and her White Boy Band was one part torch song, one part humorous toe-tapping delight.

As the travels continue, Nathaniel Johnstone and the Brazilian Surf Mafia take us along the “Scarlet Carpet Interstate, Part One.” I should note that Nathaniel’s musical work is often heard on Abney Park; so having his solo band featured on this compilation was a treat. I own this whole album, and I regret to say I have still not heard Part Two to this piece. Next, Huxley Vertical Cabaret Nouveau’s “Early Chill” is an enjoyable, but still down-tempo, vaudevillian affair.

Now, I must pause to relate that hearing “If I Told You Once” was a real treat. Circus Contraption is among one of my favorite bands, and so this compilation’s release gives us one of the last releases from the band, and did not disappoint. Following it, we have Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band’s “Kibosh On Your Scene,” which is one of my favorite tracks from the band’s debut release and I was pleased to see it featured here. I should note, in passing, that many of the bands on this passport require two stamps to spell.

The next two tracks give us two female vocal artists, Veronique Chevalier’s “The Dance Master” and The Clockwork Dolls’ “The Ballad of Black Jack Jezebel” were excellent additions to round out the midway point on this twenty track trip. Turning the ship back home, the somber sounds of the Blackbird Orchestra’s “Hollowland,” broken up briefly by the American debut of the famed U.K. steampunk band The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing’s “Charlie” (another favorite of mine, and am happy to see on this compilation), and then returning to the dark sounds of Black Tape For A Blue Girl’s “Rotten Zurich Cafe.” Nicki Jane’s vocals make it a song that really resonates for those who love the dark cabaret sounds Projekt Records are so famed for. 

Jaunting back across the pond for another American debut, Professor Elemental gave us “Sweet Cold Consolation,” a track if you needed just one reason to add this CD to your collection – the Professor is it. And following it is Sxip Shirey’s “Mehenatta,” a song so toe-tappingly eclectic I think its instrumental oddity will be floating in my head for days… in a good way. The infectious beat continues with The Peculiar Pretzelmen’s “Hammer Nails” track… there’s something about woodwinds and banjo that I just can’t get enough of.

We slow down to the end of our trip with the final two tracks. “Lilacs from Canada” by Rhubarb Whiskey and “The Last Waltz” by The Magnificent Seven match the pace back to the album’s earlier slower rhythms, with the “Waltz” track being among the best of the slower songs on the compilation. Closing out the journey is Toy Box Trio with their usual ephemeral toy piano tones to bring this strange voyage to a close. 

Overall, this compilation was a solid addition to Cpt. Bodewell’s prior release, and I can easily recommend it to any who love the music so well embraced by the vaudevillian, neo-burlesque, and steampunk communities.

Were I to have a bit of input on it, I would only comment as to the high amount of slower songs over high energy pieces. While great music, it just seemed the energy of the album as a whole was more down than up. I also would have advised about song placement – I feel that “Hollowland” flowing into “Rotten Zurich Cafe” and “Charlie” preceding “Sweet Cold Consolation” would have a better aural progression than as it was. But, outside those details, Passport is easily a CD I would recommend to anyone that shares the musical malady for fresh, innovative sounds using old musical parts. All in all, Kudos to Cpt. Bodewell and the staff of Sepiachord.  

Doctor Q is the Media Editor for Steampunk Chronicle. He fancies himself an acoustic arranger of music and founder of the Artifice Club

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