David Wax Museum – Knock Knock Get Up

January 01, 1970

(Mark of the Leopard)




Many bands never quite figure out how to instill a record
with the spirit and energy of a live show. David Wax Museum (known for upbeat,
colorful shows that more often than not have the band performing off-stage
among the crowd) could be one of
those bands. They’re not. While new release Knock
Knock Get Up
is not (obviously) the same as watching the band perform at a sun-dappled
outdoor festival, it effortlessly conveys the group’s sense of joy and wonder
at composing and performing music, weaving poetry and folklore into poppy
lyrics and honing pitch-perfect harmonies.


“Will You Still Be Sleeping” marries a snappy, energetic
pulse, Mariachi horns and a swoony falsetto. The song shimmies and pops like a
live wire striking at a piñata, its cauldron of influences culled from the
corners of the world and simmered into something unusual, but appetizing.


“All Sense of Time” opens with crisp strings and the boom of
bass drum from a distance. Wax’s voice, low and warm, rises up through layers
of instrumentation. The building of the song feels like something important,
like some lesson is being imparted (it’s a kind of “If You Want To Sing Out,
Sing Out” moment, only less precious and much more of this century).


The bio for David Wax Museum duo (sometimes a trio,
sometimes quartet) typifies the group as a “charismatic, lanky Missourian
singing tight harmony with a Southern belle rattling the jawbone of a donkey.”
As street-performer-kooky as that sounds, they are that, but in a polished and
fully-realized way. If the band, led by Wax, began as some sort of experiment
of combining world beat sounds (especially Mexican Son music) and
instrumentation (on stage there’s a jarana jarocha guitar, a cajón, a fiddle
and an accordion) with indie-folk songwriting, in Knock Knock, those disparate parts have found a balance.


The album takes its title from a line in the rhythmic, Paul
Simon-esque “Harder Before It Gets Easier.” Peals of accordion, fiddle and the
muscular knock-knock refrain of the drum escalate to the explosive line, “Knock
knock fate is at the door, knock knock too loud to ignore.” There’s a
barely-controlled wildness to the song – West African dance troupe meets Gypsy
caravan – that makes it instantly likable. And danceable. (Hard to not like a
song that has you dancing and singing along before you can check yourself.)
Though, in the midst of all the revelry, Wax’s lyrics linger over a wheel
caught in a rut and a baby born with a worm in its gut.


A social conscience planted in the dance party is a theme
throughout Knock Knock. “Leopard
Girl” swings and hip-bumps along the beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder
storyline. But first there are the skipping vocal breaks and the garagey guitar
riffs. “I wanna know how I look through your eyes,” Wax and collaborator Suze
Slezak (the Southern belle with the donkey jaw-turned-percussion instrument)


Slezak takes a turn at lead vocals in the slow and sweet
“Wonderous Love.” Her voice is a shy and dusky surprise. The lyrics could be
cloying, but Slezak’s close-to-the-mic delivery (with just the slightest of
effects) is steady and unfaltering. The song shimmers, each instrument adding
minimalist flourishes and warm tones. The track isn’t a perfect fit for the
rest of Knock Knock, but it contains
the earnestness and big-heartedness with which David Wax Museum is imbued.


Aptly, “Big Heart of Yours,” near the end of the album, is
an ode to a diligent-if-flawed brand of love. Wax’s view on the tender emotion
seems more informed by what’s genuine than what’s romantic. No clichés here. No
prostrations or grand gestures. But the unhurried climb through horns, through
atmospheric layers of strings, through rhythmic guitar and chiming high notes
elevates this song from slow burn to full-on enchantment. If it’s not as
immediately accessible as the album’s earlier, rhythm-dominated, animated
tracks, it’s certainly a standout in its own right.


You Still Be Sleeping,” “Harder Before It Gets Easier” ALLI MARSHALL




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