Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Psychodots – Blotter (1994)

If you’re not up on your extended Frank Zappa lineage, you might not know anything about this Cincinnati-based trio. I’m probably fucking this up, but I think the origins go like this: there was a band called the Raisins, and they recorded an album that was produced by former Zappa guitarrist Adrian Belew. Then they all got together and formed a Chicinatti-based band called The Bears. After two albums and a few years of touring, the band split up and Belew went solo. But the core trio of the band stayed together and called themselves the Psychodots. They also, oddly enough, toured with Belew, both opening for him and serving as his backing band. I saw them on that tour in ’94, and despite the fact that my friend Steve Simms is the biggest Zappa fanatic ever, therefore being huge fans of these guys too, I’d never heard note one of them until this show. I was so blown away, I bought the Blotter CD and then played it 20,000 times over the course of that summer.

First, Blotter is not a real album; it’s a 6-song compilation containing tracks from their first two albums. It’s just a simple clear slipcase with a photocopied track listing in it, nothing fancy there. On the contrary, this music is incredibly clear and present, the kind of production that reminded me of when everyone was analog and then bands like Rush suddenly went digital. Despite the fact that the trio is just a bass-drum-guitar group, there’s a lot of thick sound here. Part of this comes from the fact that vocalist/axeman Rob Fetters uses one of those Roland MIDI pickup systems that drives an external synth. I’d always heard horror stories of these things, but I saw the man do it live, and he effortlessly went from playing keyboard intros to slamming through guitar solos with no problems at all. Also, bassist Bob Nyswonger doesn’t just pluck a note here or there with a pick and then count to four; he plays the bass more like a guitar, even taking solos and pulling out chords when the need arises.

It’s hard to describe ‘Dots music, other than to say it’s not much like the twice-removed math-rock that you’d expect from a distant cousin on the Zappa family tree. It’s much more singer-songwriter oriented, with strong guitar parts, clean synth bits, and a tight sound overall. Songs like the opening “Moaner” are almost straightforward power-pop, while stuff like “Big Love Now” build strong anthems with harmonized and powerful vocals. I remember thinking in 1994 that these songs sounded so NEW, and it’s weird that over a decade later, they still sound fresh. The six-song sampler ends too fast, but I’ve also kept it on repeat a dozen times with no boredom. It’s very catchy stuff from an underappreciated Ohio band. I’ll have to hunt down their other albums and see it they also hold up. They’ve since been active and have some new material too, that I’m downloading from iTunes as we speak…

Rating: 8