By Chris Anderson
Vermont has given birth to some of the jam scene’s heaviest hitters, most notably Phish – the big daddy of them all – as well as a host of others such as Raq, Max Creek, the legendary Strangefolk, and the increasingly popular Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. Joining those luminous names is the oddly-yet-aptly-named Twiddle, who has been delivering its signature brand of uplifting, sunshine-filled, weed-soaked grooves for over a decade now. More song-oriented than many of the bands on their particular level, Twiddle has a sound that is highly reminiscent of early Dave Matthews Band and Blues Traveler (in fact, singer/guitarist Mihali Savoulidis has a voice that sounds exactly like a cross between Dave Matthews and John Popper) but with perhaps a slightly Phishy twist. While they are all magnificent players, and they do have a tendency to stretch things out a fair bit on stage, this is a band that is definitely about songs just as much as instrumental antics, and they sure do bring the goods, on both counts.
Twiddle’s latest release is the also-aptly-named, Plump, a mammoth double studio album that features some 28 songs spanning well over two hours. That sounds daunting but it is, however, two hours very well spent. The first volume was originally released in a low-key edition in 2015 but was remastered and updated for this current edition, which adds an additional album worth of music. Almost every song on Plump is top-notch….I just don’t get the rap-metal of “Juggernaut” that sits in the middle of this otherwise beautiful album but most of the other songs are fantastic. I will admit that, as a recent convert, a lot of their songs sound the same, or at least many of them have a very similar vibe going on – sunny reggae-inspired grooves mixed with old soul sounds, sometimes a bit of a Band feel, lots of DMB in the sound, but every so often they slip a funky or proggy instrumental bit in there, probably to make sure we’re all still paying attention. Sometimes they will do that right in the middle of a song, such as with “Nicodemus Portulay”, or the first half of “Orlando’s”, or sometimes it will be its own thing like the uber-sick “Blunderbuss”, which reminds me a lot of moe., or “Milk” which moves between funky grooves and complex prog-rock. And it’s great when they do that – Twiddle definitely has the skills to pull this sort of thing off. But if it’s solid song craft that you are looking for, you can find that in the opening “When it Rains It Pours”, “Five”, and “Syncopated Healing”, which is probably my favorite song of theirs, along with the fantastic “Amydst The Myst”. “Complacent Race” is another one that will get stuck in your head – an all-too-poignant lyric wedded to a killer lead riff. And then there is “Indigo Trigger” which is also solid, and “The Fantastic Tale Of Ricky Snickle”, which sounds like a lost outtake from an early Blues Traveler album, and features an intricate instrumental interlude that leaves plenty of room to jam out. Yeah, there are some killer songs here.
This is the kind of music that makes you want to smoke a joint and kick the hacky-sack with some buds on a warm day, if that’s your thing. If not, well, this album is perfect for any other occasion. It’s laid back enough that you can have it on in the background while reading, doing chores, or hosting a dinner party, but it is also energetic enough to make for some solid driving music and is compelling enough for in-depth listening. I won’t lie – this is one long ass album. And that is often very, very dangerous for the artist. There are very few double albums that are flawless, from start to finish – Electric Ladyland and Exile On Main Street are the only two that come to mind. Usually double albums will be totally solid for two sides and then lose focus somewhere on side three before picking up steam towards the end. True to form, this album’s only real flirtation with weakness lies somewhere past the halfway point. Wisely, they top-loaded this album and the first twelve songs or so are utterly perfect. The last several songs on the album are solid as well but, to be perfectly honest, I’ve had a more difficult time connecting with them because they aren’t as strong as the rest of the songs and also, well, two and a half hours is a long time to spend with any album. It also probably doesn’t help that, the band gets pretty experimental towards the end of the album but there is still plenty to dig here, the main highlights being the prog-inspired instrumentals, “Blunderbuss” and “Dinner Fork”, and the acoustic bluegrass-tinged “Fat Country Baby” is a fun tune even if it is completely out of place on this album. The whole affair ends with the dramatic, piano-cello instrumental, “Purple Forrest”, a perfect closing song, the credits rolling, the audience moving on. Or, as it keeps on happening to me, pressing play and restarting the album from the top.
It is refreshing to see the jam scene continue to thrive. It seemed like it had wound up in the wilderness there for a while but it has really come together and gotten very interesting again. Fortunately there is an ever-growing crop of new talent keeping the flame alive, in one way or another. Other artists worthy of a listen include Spafford (their latest album, Abaculus, is one hour-long improvisation and is fantastic); the prog-infused Mungion (who has one album that will completely knock your socks off); Aqueous (fans of moe. would dig them); the instrumental TAUK; Cycles (who sounds like a cross between early Phish and Primus), and the lovely Holly Bowling (who has made a name for herself by arranging Phish songs and improvisations for solo piano). All of this music can be found online. Check it out!