Messer Chups - Dark Side of Paradise

Messer Chups - Dark Side of Paradise

Not to be a brat, but when I got an email about another Messer Chups record, my reaction was "oh ok, sure"

There's just a lot of Messer Chups. I think my digital collection spans 17 releases. And I can't really blame them, I once watched a guy walk up to their merch table and buy one of each album, which is when I realized that having a big back catalog helps you make more money! But aside from one record with , can I really expect a new Messer Chups record to be more than just more?

Actually, yes!

The most notable thing here is the absence of Rockin' Eugene on drums. I'm not privy to anything here, whether it was just time constraints, whatever, I'm not gonna assume anything. I'm also not a drums-first kind of listener (I listen to those with my body, not my brains!), so I don't feel like declaring Signor Mattia to be a strong new angle to the sound, but at the very least he's capable.

I do want to take a note of that album art. Messer Chups don't exclusively have Rockin' Eugene do their art, but he has generally set the tone of their visual style and done it quite well. This one, however, was done by low-brow artist Naoya Kawakami (also from the excellent band ), and I just love it. While it's not outside his typical work it makes me think of .

But there's a little hint of something in that illustration: a lot more tiki stuff than you tend to see from this band. Well, I guess the title of the record kinda sends that message too, come to think of it. That is not merely a visual difference!

I didn't even notice it at first. This isn't an explicitly exotica album, with song titles still very much b-movie themed, and still sounding generally pretty Messer Chupsey. It took a while until I asked myself "Is this quieter?" So I skipped to a few previous records and the difference was clear. In fact I was surprised how loud the older ones sounded! But again, it was hard to even pinpoint that this was the case. This didn't feel like a new Messer Chups sound -- it somehow feels more like Messer Chups than before!

The sound makes sense. This is not a band that's here to sweep you up in a noisy frenzy. Skeletons aside, I wouldn't compare them to The Bomboras. They want to creep you out with sparse, precision-picked guitar.

Rather than try to compare subtleties, I want to zero-in on the track that first struck me as unique: "Blood and Black Lace". With a guest appearance from trumpeter Kenny Warren, the Messer Chups sound pretty jazzy! It sounds great, and once you notice it you start to hear jazz influences throughout the record. With a less razor-sharp sound from The Guitaracula, you start to hear more Bambi Molesters in their sound, some Aqua Velvets, and Black Flamingos. That last comparison is an especially fun one, since this is the first LP on Hi-Tide Recordings, co-run by the drummer of The Black Flamingos.

The real winner in a jazzier Messer Chups is Zombierella, whose vocals elevate from their typical goofball novelty and "Church Key"-like interjections to genuinely compelling jazz singer allure, even on goofier songs like "Hard Times for Dracula". They lean into this with great results in the title track, which kind of fells like a warped James Bond song.

Is Jazzer Chups the new norm, or is this just a one-off? I guess time will tell, but I think it could be because it's not that big of a change. There's nothing stopping them from doing typical Messer Chups within this sound, and "Sexploitation From Outer Space" is proof of that. They even go in totally different directions with some Western moments like "Jerry's Theme" and "Nights in White Satin".

I kind of figured that Messer Chups were so close to dialing in their sound that at this point any changes would be minute, but maybe I should expect more from a band that started with a pretty explicitly experimental sound... and even ripped that whole playbook up! So if you're like me, with more Messer Chups in your collection than you can really keep track of, I'm afraid you still don't have enough without this LP.

Available on vinyl, CD, or digital.


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