That Handsome Devil: The Heart Goes to Heaven, The Head Goes to Hell (2011)

Bio (condensed from http://www.wikipedia.org):
That Handsome Devil is an American band, founded in Boston by Godforbid and Jeremy Page; both members of the hip-hop group Alaskan Fishermen. The band mixes genres such as rock, funk, jazz, jive, blues, surf, R&B, reggae, rockabilly, rap, and psychedelic. Their sound has also been described as “equal parts Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, bizarre electronica, creepy hip-hop and in-your-face gonzo rock”. Gypsy jazz has been used in description of the band, while Godforbid himself describes the band’s music as “fringe pop”.

Musicians:
Godforbid (vocals, songwriter), Jeremy Page (guitar, bass, keyboard, banjo, pedal steel, glockenspiel, percussion, accordion, synthesizer, kazoo, background vocals, songwriter), Naoko Takamoto (backing vocals), Jeremy Siegel (bass, background vocals), Sam Merrick (drums), Deflon Sallahr (backing vocals), Tyler Cash (keyboards)

I’ve always liked “weird” music; I attribute that to Primus being one of my first favorite bands.  My friend Elisa told me once “Primus would be huge, if they just weren’t so damn weird,” and I agree with her.  It’s not as if Primus isn’t well known, but they may have just taken over the musical world by now if they weren’t so apt to sing about flying pachyderms.  My love of weird music evolved over the years; when I got into electronica I was a big fan of Aphex Twin and µ-Ziq, when I got more into metal I was into White Zombie and Clutch, and when I came back to hip-hop (one of my early loves, genre-wise) I got into things like Deltron 3030 and later, MF DOOM.  I don’t like “normal” or “average” or “plain,” which is probably why I pretty much never listen to the radio… there is nothing there for me.

When I bought Rock Band back in 2008, I was impressed with the wide range of music included by bands I had not heard before, but quickly one particular track stood out.  It was called “Rob the Prez-O-Dent,” and it was by a band I had never heard of, That Handsome Devil.  It had this psychobilly swing to it, and I loved the story it told (literally going to Washington with a gun and a sack and robbing the government!) and the way it told that story.  I liked that song so much that I looked up the band, and quickly purchased the two releases they had so far, their S/T EP, and their first full-length album, “A City Dressed in Dynamite.”  Almost immediately both of these albums went into major rotation in my life… they went on my iPod and I don’t think ACDiD has ever come off.  That Handsome Devil’s music was this weird mash up not only of genres but also of decades; I used to try to explain to people what they sounded like by telling them “Imagine if Frank Sinatra was in a hip-hop group with punk-rock roots.”  I’ve come to drop that explanation because it just doesn’t go far enough to explain what is going on with, and what influences are going into, the music of That Handsome Devil.

On August 8th That Handsome Devil (finally!) released their new full-length, “The Heart Goes to Heaven, The Head Goes to Hell” (for mp3 download, the hard copy CD will be available September 27th).  I didn’t know what to expect.  I mean, I had an idea of what to expect, but just an idea as their first EP was different from ACDiD, which was different from their 2nd EP (“Enlightenment’s For Suckers”).  They all sound like, well, That Handsome Devil.  I can’t think of anything else that compares!  When I finally got my hands on my copy of THGtHTHGtH, I was incredibly happy with what was coming out of my speakers.  The mash-up continues, and has even become more varied.  Songs on THGtHTHGtH go from 60’s beatnik jazz to late 70’s disco-esque grooves, to rock, to hip-hop, to (insert any other genre you can think of here).  And it works.  It truly works; you would think that so many different things would clash, but somehow That Handsome Devil manages to make it smooth.  And fitting.  And perfect.

Godforbid and Page’s themes of darkness continue on this album as they have before, as well as their inherent humor.  “Here lies Charlie,” says Godforbid in the opening of “Charlie’s Inferno,” “You can tell it’s him, because we put his name on the song.”  With THGtHTHGtH, Godforbid’s vocals are more mature and his voice works even better than on previous releases.  I love “Charlie’s Inferno,” as it is a story of a man who has died, and is denied entrance to Heaven – not something you hear often heard in a song.  Truthfully, though, I love the whole album.  There are standouts: “The U & I in Suicide,” “Karmakaze,” “Loving Parasite,” and “Buyer’s Remorse” all get lots of play.  However, do not take that to mean that the rest of the album is throwaway, it is quite the opposite!  All of THGtHTHGtH is really, good-god-damned good; these particular tracks just stand out to me as even a little bit better.

Overall, I can’t say enough how much I dig on THGtHTHGtH.  ACDiD has been one of my favorite CDs since it went into my collection in ’08, and THGtHTHGtH is just as good, if not better.  I know that this CD will not be everyone’s favorite… if you like the average, everyday, plain-old-thing then stay away. THGtHTHGtH is complex, THGtHTHGtH is trying, and THGtHTHGtH is not the plain-old-thing.  If you are open to music that does not go where you expect it to, if you are open to something a little more challenging than the dreck that is on every radio station all the time, then THGtHTHGtH is it.  Like Primus before them, I don’t know if That Handsome Devil will ever be as big as they should be, but I know I will be along for the ride, wherever it takes me.  And I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Overall 9.5 / 10

THGtHTHGtH for sale (digital download): http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-heart-goes-to-heaven-the/id456006341

THGtHTHGtH for sale (hard copy releases Sept. 27th): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005IHAF1E/ref=dm_dp_cdp?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1315150280&sr=8-1

THGtHTHGtH site: http://www.thathandsomedevil.net

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