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Mike Keneally first came to prominence as a member of Frank Zappa's 1988 band, and he can currently be found touring alternately as a member of Metal act Dethklok, and as both keyboardist and guitarist with Joe Satriani. While his adaptability and wide-ranging musical interests make him an invaluable addition to these and many other musical environments, it's as bandleader, producer and composer/performer/vocalist that his talents reach their highest fruition. You Must Be This Tall provides an expansive platform for these talents.
A feeling of fearlessness pervades You Must Be This Tall - a willingness to pursue any musical idea to its fullest extent. But this uncompromising stance is approached with verve and humor - the album jumps with life.
Four of the new songs began as very short musical ideas - a rhythm pattern, or a snatch of lyric or melody, not lasting more than a few seconds - that Keneally sang or played into his cell phone while on the road with Satriani or Dethklok. After returning from touring, he set himself a challenge: go into the recording studio for four days and create four completed song structures based on these voice memos, one song per day. By the end of the week, full basic tracks were recorded for "The Rider," a sweeping classic-rock anthem; "Kidzapunk," a manic, chaotic theme song for a movie that doesn't exist; "Cavanaugh," a moody, proggish character study; and "Pitch Pipe," an epic instrumental with guitar to the forefront. Except for Marco Minnemann's virtuosic drumming on "Kidzapunk" and a few soulful guitar interjections from Rick Musallam on "The Rider," these four songs feature Keneally playing all instruments, manually (except for some electronic percussion programming on a couple of tracks, all the playing on this album was done in real time by human hands).
Following up on last year's Wing Beat Fantastic - Songs Written by Mike Keneally & Andy Partridge (a product of the storied songwriting meet-up between Keneally and legendary XTC leader Partridge), this new album includes "Indicator," the last remaining song to date from Mike and Andy's collaborations, an angular track somewhat influenced by Captain Beefheart and featuring Partridge and Keneally together on multiple guitar overdubs.
The title track began as a demo for a piece to be performed by Holland's venerable Metropole Orkest; the orchestra debuted the piece in concert in 2006, but this album contains Mike's first released version of this whimsical, propulsive and wildly inventive composition. Here Mike uses layers of keyboard to replicate the sounds of the orchestra but retaining the unreal, surrealistic feel of the synthesizer, backing up a bravura lead guitar turn.
The other members of Keneally touring band - Bryan Beller (Dethklok, The Aristocrats) on bass, Joe Travers (Zappa Plays Zappa, Duran Duran) on drums, and Rick Musallam (Ben Taylor, The Roots) on guitar - join Mike for "Cornbread Crumb" and "Popes," two relaxed, joyful celebrations of groove and texture. "Cornbread" features perhaps Keneally's best recorded lead guitar playing to date, and the slyly humorous "Popes" is the album's lead video, with playful, colorful animation from Bulgarian filmmaker Dimitriya (http://dimitriya.net).
Keneally's experimentalist bent takes precedence on the final two pieces, řth St." and "Glop," both of which have improvisational origins. řth St." emerged during a live studio webcast wherein Mike was challenged to compose a song on the spot on piano, which was embellished later with guitar overdubs and skittering drum and percussion latticework. "Glop" is based on a searing guitar solo that Keneally recorded at his home; later in the studio, he learned and doubled key melodies from the improvisation on various instruments, a methodology that shows the clear influence of his former employer and mentor Frank Zappa.
1. You Must Be This Tall
4. Cornbread Crumb
6. Pitch Pipe
7. The Rider
11. 5th St.