I have a personal obligation to offer a warning about this review: I know these guys well. For that reason I have taken great lengths to avoid subjectivity and make this review as objective as possible.
Sat. Nite Duets have an interesting history. The band started as a band from Wauwatosa, Two Kids Get New Books. Two Kids Get New Books brought Stephen Strupp, Joe Guszkowski and Ben Gucciardi. The band has always been unique in that each member sings and writes songs. Their first album was a contemplation of American culture: the name Sat. Nite Duets is an anagram for United States. Each member of the group have had their own solo endeavor. Andrew Jambura played as Handprints, Joe Guszkowski as Pizza Rats, Ben Gucciardi released an album under his name at birth and Stephen Strupp has played in several jazz ensembles.
The band continued on to issue five more releases. Musician John Anderson made vocal contributions to the EP One Nite Only and their second album Summer of Punishment; he aided the band in recalling its origin with his Americana tone. Anderson has played in the experimental Milwaukee group, The Lobsters, and in the noise duo, Buddy Boys, during his studies in Asheville. Along the way the band was picked up by the New York art collective, Uninhabitable Mansions, which released Summer of Punishment (for those who don’t know, the enterprise is run by nine people including Tyler Sargent of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and the band’s former drummer Robbie Guerton as well as Annie Hart of Au Revoir Simone). This third album has Anderson coming on as bassist and full-time member replacing John Guzikowski.
The album starts with “The Three Wisemen” which finds singer/percussionist/keyboardist Andrew Jambura playing an organ melody set to lone finger snaps while singing in a slight drawl, “I am a lonesome spaceman/set to float among the interstellar dust”. This bursts into a sonorous guitar driven chorus. The song returns to the organ propelled verse where Jambura muses, “I am a no good houndog/interloping all over your September girl”. This is accented by a moody guitar lick. After returning to the resonant chorus the song carries on to a ringing synth solo. This submits to a snare playing alongside a choir singing, “We’re men of emotion/caught up in up the ramble of our glory days”. The song ends with a jam on the deep chorus. A synth buzz transitions this song to “I Have the Wine”. The band demonstrates its sense of humor by playing a failed attempt to solve a Wheel of Fortune puzzle (the song gets its name from this sample). The song begins with an early Deerhoof-style bass and guitar syncopation. John Anderson sings in his aforementioned Americana style; the song comes across as a satire of the alcohol consumption habits of rural America with the line, “I want to get too fucked up to drive”. The chorus is a noise discharge with wailing vocals. Stephen Strupp strikes with a Keith Richards-esque riff on “The Last Summer” (check out Stephen’s work on “Of Age” from Summer of Punishment and “Me and Your Dad” on Wilder Dreams). The song adds vocals from Cat Ries (she currently performs solo work as Pleasure Thief) and Ashley Coffey. It eventually transitions to to a scurrying hi-hat propelled bridge in which Strupp sings, “Time won’t show/Where does it go/In the long run/I hope it’s gonna be a long one”. The song breaks down to a funky groove with interjected distortion before returning to the main riff.
“Stone Free” begins with a majestic introductory phrase set to a rolling snare. Guitarist/singer-songwriter Ben Gucciardi arrives with the question and answer of, “How do you get freer that free/You do what you want at hyperspeed/So misunderstood I disagree/To the extent that you are you want to be”. He continues on with “Possessed by an instinct/ That you’ve missed what you’re missing”. These lines are emphasized with a bluesy line that ends with a churning transition. The song returns to its distinguished introduction that seems to act as a verse as Gucciardi sings, “How do you see past what you see/ territorial guys with brain disease”. The blues-washed section returns as he states, “Possessed by an instinct/as you’re losing your mystique”. This builds to a complex chorus. The song comes to a swirling bridge stressed with a dance beat; this goes back to the majestic and blues-tinted verse. It concedes to a boiling break down as the song returns to the chorus (a nice drum solo completes the segue). The song ends by recuring to the bubbling break down. “My Novel” begins with a minimal guitar line and chilly vocals from drummer/singer-songwriter Joe Guszkowski. A ghostly-reverberated guitar heightens this. Strings are added as the full band enters and a solo à la Jimi Hendrix comes to the forefront. The icy minimalism continues only to bend to an elaborate vocal melody stating, “Great communicator/so creative with your words/you are an artist, sir”. An intricate run ends the phrase. This repeats as Guszkowski adds cooing. The first half of the album ends with the doo-wop and funk infused shouts of “Big Worm”.
“Born to Walk” has an ominous guitar line with apocalyptic suggestions in its introductory verse. The elaborate chorus bellows, “Won’t you call me crazy/ Call me whatever you like”. Midway through the song comes a roaring guitar solo. The song ends with a twist on the chorus and with the line, “Walk my baby to the other side”. “Process of Elimination” has a jagged prelude. It opens to a Parliament-style bass line via Sat. Nite Duets contributor Chris Frahm (Check out his band Nuclear Woods and his upright work on “Peel Away” from One Nite Only). The remainder of the song is a knotty structure. “Whipped” is a tumultuous, full-frontal assault. “Swan Blvd.” begins as a string-laden tribute to Music from Big Pink. The song transitions to a noisy chorus where singer John Anderson asks, “Do you have plans to kill me”. It shifts to a regal and progressive bridge that is complimented with trumpet. The song cuts away to a guitar solo. It ends with a return to the chorus with more soloing.
Electric Manland finds the songwriting skills of Sat. Nite Duets reaching an all time high. The band demonstrates it prowess with solos and the intricacy of songs. The album is adventurous and true to the origins of the band. It is definitely a recommended listen.
The photos in this post are from the Sat. Nite Duets’ ‘Electric Manland’ release show at the Polish Falcons Nest on October 26th, 2013 in Milwaukee, WI (Photo credit: Brandon Kenney).