THE CHAMPIONSHIP – Dance Casador!
(2005 Bear Rifle Records)
Milwaukee band, the Championship, have only been together since May of 2005, yet they managed to write, record and release Dance Casador! before the year was out. A charmingly lo-fi effort, Erik Kowalski, manager of the Mecca for Milwaukee music lovers, Atomic Records, called it one of the five local CDs worth a listen last year. Seemingly without effort, they have combined just the right mix of Brit-pop, Americana and rock, recalling some of the biggest names in each, but coming up with their own identity in the process.
The appropriately titled “This is Where it Begins” opens the disc with a haunted keyboard line that morphs into a swirling synth-and-drum part seemingly swiped from a Flaming Lips recording session. It has all the build-up of the Wrens’ Meadowlands opener “The House that Guilt Built,” but it never explodes, instead content to settle into a My Morning Jacket-style hypnotic reverb lament. The recorded-in-a-silo sound of MMJ’s It Still Moves is also apparent on the strummy “Liar Liar,” though without the distraction of that band’s Neil Young sound-alike vocalist Jim James. In fact, Joe Crockett’s vocals just barely stay above the music, seeming always in danger of being sucked under.
At the same time, every instrument comes through crystal clear. On “One Thing I Can’t Forget” the Basement Tape harmonica treads equal ground with the maraca percussion and piano melody, as Crockett paradoxically admits, “I believe that all the things that you confess are there in my head.” The percussive efforts of Travis Doar are particularly noteworthy, from the muted tambourine of “The Raincoat” to his light touch on the drums throughout, preserving the ethereal quality of the music.
The disc ends with an elegant Johnny Cash-styled murder tale, “The Ballad of Maxwell Simmons,” in which the narrator does himself in by drinking poison after shooting his baby down, wrapping her in a sheet and putting all the evidence six feet underground. Of course, we knew he was doomed; if the haunted whistling hadn’t already given it away the chilling chorus, “When I went dancing with the devil, he said / ‘son you’re meant for fire not for blue skies,’” would have. Artist Keith Negley’s intriguing illustrations on the digipak case portray sad-faced performers and a pale, gangly mustachioed dancer. What this or the record’s title has to do with the music inside remains as much a mystery as where Maxwell Simmons buried the body.