The Upshot: A musical magician’s act, primarily based around hi-nrg blues-jazz compositions for piano, bass, drums, and vocals, and a helluva lot of fun.
BY FRED MILLS
If you just gave a cursory glance to the band name, album title, and sleeve art gracing this Chicago outfit’s third full-length you might think “garage punkettes,” but nope, the Claudettes are a sleek—but decidedly non-slick—blues band with elements of jazz (particularly with the song arrangements’ emphasis on songwriter Johnny Iguana’s piano work) and poppy soul (Ms. Berit Ulseth’s rich vocal stylings). At the same time, those first four letters of “punkettes” definitely apply here, because the quartet, which is rounded out by drummer Matthew Torre and bassist/guitarist Zach Verdoorn, musters more per-capita energy across these dozen tunes than most any garage combo you’d care to mention. That they are produced by Mark Neill of Black Keys fame is no coincidence.
Indeed, from the peripatetic “November” (an epic-in-feel cinematic number that finds Ulseth cooing from the mountaintop) and the whomping boogie-woogie of “Give It All Up for Good”; to the dense, avant-garde-esque wall of Tom Waitsian sound that is “Influential Farmers” which was apparently inspired by an NPR report on occupational trends, and the titular-appropriate “Utterly Absurd” (a kind of cross between Dr. John-styled N’awlins rock and Krautrock-laced psychedelic punk), Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium! is an exercise in sonic and thematic gotcha. Song after song, just as the listener thinks he or she has nailed down what the Claudettes are all about, the band duly yanks the rug out from under those expectations, leaving you gasping and laughing from the surprise. I mean, there’s even a tune about Bill Clinton (“Bill Played Saxophone”) which could rightly be described as Political Prog—if that’s an actual genre. Who the hell knows?
“Yanks the rug out”? Make that “yanks the dinner cloth out from under the place settings and dinner.” This is a musical magician’s act, and it’s a helluva lot of fun.
DOWNLOAD: “Influential Farmers,” “Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium,” “November”