Ultraviolet Hippopotamus: Square Pegs Round Holes
Words By J-man
Square Pegs Round Holes marks the sophomore release from Ultraviolet Hippopotamus. The long anticipated album provides a glimpse into the group at a time just prior to the band's most recent transformation. The album was actually recorded, scrapped and re-recorded to suit the band's vision of what it was to sound like. In the end, Square Pegs Round Holes is a fantastic and fitting representation of a band teetering on the brink of massive expansion.
The album starts with a full sounding organ that opens the door to "Giants". It's immediately clear that the production was stepped up and the balance of the instruments is as close to perfect as possible. The guitar and piano work are captivating. Even the vocals kept my attention, which is rare for the typical "Jamband". "Giants" transitions right into "Bob The Wonder Cat". Make no mistake about it, this track is destructive and potentially dangerous. The driving drum work of Joe Phillion alongside the clean, wailing guitar work of Sam Guidry and Russel James opens up to one of the most incredible electric key/synth solos that I have ever heard. Dave Sanders takes the listener to outer space, re-arranging the listener's face and mind and the same time. If you're able to make it back to earth, your whole perspective on "space" will forever be changed. The track is rounded out with a killer guitar solo.
"Bob The Wonder Cat" transitions right into the title track "Square Pegs Round Holes", once again leaving no time to waste between tracks for dead air. This track features some interesting progressions and changes that give way to some less than desirable vocals. All is forgiven towards the end of the song when an intense guitar solo leads into a horrifying synth solo, back to the guitar, then back to the synth to close and mark the first break in the music.
"Run Rabbit Run" feels like an instrumental chase. The chaotic progression falls to a reggae-style rhythm with mocking guitar and vocal lines. The track builds up to madness and comes to a close. "Run Rabbit Run" transitions into "TIJ" which starts with some spacey tones and a danceable grooves. Hippo then hits the jamtronica nail right on the head with a synth/drum cross that will leave the weak at heart clutching their chest. The beautiful breakdown in the middle of the track brings everything full circle. The utilization of the synth on this track is further proof of Dave's overwhelming yet nationally underappreciated ability.
"The Scar" fires up with a feel good/happy-go-lucky jam and vocals that include, "Everything will be fine, I'm really glad you were born...." Lyrically, it's not the deepest, but the phrasing of the vocals are fitting to the music and reflect an understanding of song structure. Sam's pure guitar work leads into Dave's straight-ahead chops and full key slides, transitioning into a duel lead between Sam and Russ. Dave's final scream of the keys segues the song into "Avalon", an ambient acoustic track. The guitar work is beautiful and the organ accompaniment is is delicate and clean, but there is something odd about this track. Where as it does show Hippo's range, it almost doesn't fit until the end when it transitions into "Medicine". It takes on an almost Pink Floyd/adventure feel.
"Medicine" starts with a plethora of chimes and ambient tones that have a feeling of rebirth or cleansing. A Xylophone sets the scene with an epic sounding theme. The vocal harmonies kick-in with impressive force and accuracy. Brian Samuels' bass grooves come to the foreground and the listener is graced with some low-end action from a focused professional. The guitar chops, bass and key work coupled with Joe's drumming and the percussion/hand drum work of Casey Butts create sonic balance through the developed sound that is presented. The buildup and inevitable meltdown at the end of the track winds down with the purest of noisy nonsense back into a verse and closing chorus.
"DNT" starts with a lounge vibe created by Dave on the grand piano, then again it happens...loose, almost stumbling vocals. Dave once again turns the track around with a mind-blowing/face-melting layered solo on the piano and electric organ. The organ resolves to a clavinet sound then back to a straightforward synth, showing Dave's sonic range. Dave leaves the listener with some in-your-face midi effects that lead into the last song of the album, "The Marine". This track has a resolving feeling and a roundabout groove with its fusion-sounding vibe that returns to rock. Enter the vocals and once again, the interest has shifted. Fortunately for hardcore instrumental fans, the song picks back up midway though for a funky breakdown.
Hippo is almost instantly transformed into a pure funk group until they once again turn to fusion and Dave Sanders. Dave scares the shit out of me... there, I said it. His playing pushes the bounds of his instrument and the earthly realm as the album comes to a close with a seriously crunchy groove.
Ultraviolet Hippopotamus has hit the mark with Square Pegs Round Holes. What more can a band ask for from their album other than for it to be an accurate representation of who they are and what they do? For those who are not familiar with Hippo, this album is a guaranteed deal-sealer. For those who have experienced the awesome power and full potential of Hippo, this album is an essential. Either way you look at it, Square Pegs Round Holes is a must own.