Becoming a highly successful jam band is not an easy task. Very few smart, thought-provoking, improvisational rooted groups have found themselves on the path to becoming a top-tier act in the music industry. In a musical world where bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead prove that you can stay true to your artistry and build a fan base, while acts like the Dave Matthews Band and Blues Traveler showcase a more commercial success side, Twiddle seems to be a band that is on everyone’s radar. And their third studio album and second fan-funded record PLUMP, a double-disc set, is scheduled for dual releases.
Launched in January of 2015, Twiddle’s dedicated fan base pledged the $20,000 PLUMP Kickstarter goal in less than 24 hours. And even after the goal was reached, backers continued to elect into the campaign’s rewards raising more than $40,000 by the project’s end.
PLUMP–Chapter One is a slightly departed yet highly fulfilling venture for the Vermont-based quartet. The band’s two previous studio albums were mainly composed of clever, intermingled lyrical hooks displaced among lengthy jams and instrumental tracks. The band has stepped away from that style to offer a more developed and produced sound. Only one song on the record clocks in at longer than six minutes. But what the album lacks in extended jam, it succeeds in showcasing Twiddle’s prowess as well-rounded songwriters.
This first installment is overly ripe with earworms and radio friendly pop hooks, none of which should be a surprise to Twiddle fans, as the album contains not one previously unheard tune. If you want to understand why so many new listeners have latched onto the band over recent years, PLUMP–Chapter One exemplifies that attachment at its roots.
With this selection of songs, Twiddle highlights their socially conscious yet personally hopeful resonance that their followers love. Lyrically, the album is easy to swallow; it’s the tones of personal and social self-discovery that is neither preachy or melancholic. Even in more intense tracks like “Polluted Beauty” and “Indigo Tigger,” deeper, prophetic messages hide among sweet grooves and grunge-inspired edge.
The record’s opening track “Complacent Race” sets the stage for the album’s lyrical flow that reads like a beautifully written manifesto. The song, which has only been played live during a solo performance from lead guitarist and vocalist Mihali Savoulidis, is probably the most ominous of PLUMP–Chapter One’s 11 tracks. Even the initial burst of horns heralds in Savoulidis’ slight contempt, “Drowning in hypocrisy/Doubting our democracy/Still fighting for equality/So you can live the way you please.”
At the album’s most lyrically stern moments, it’s Twiddle’s brand of musical fusion that drives the sheer optimism behind the music. The four-piece outfit masterfully weaves up-tempo reggae fluidity with deep funk-driven bass lines and quirky keys to create the perfect backdrop for their variety of lyrical directness. PLUMP–Chapter One is overflowing with tales of hope, frustration, humanitarian desire and self-awareness. Savoulidis has no problem revealing his life’s truths in songs like “Lost in the Cold,” “Amydst the Myst” or even the well-veiled love song “Five.”
“Lost in the Cold,” a meaningful and personal exorcism, takes on a new life through PLUMP. Lyrically, it’s the courage that comes at the end of hitting rock bottom; Savoulidis perfectly captures what it’s like to be tortured by life’s complexities and the fear of moving beyond them. For fans of the song’s live version, the added horns and sleek production of the track may feel like a slight overreach. But the PLUMP version of “LITC” is a shining example of how Twiddle’s music has the ability to take on a bigger, more complex sound. And it’s more than likely a glimpse into the direction that the band sees its music heading.
“Syncopated Healing,” the band’s upbeat, music-loving anthem, serves as a solicitous reminder that the heart of Twiddle’s music and fanbase is a desire to heal through music. Lyrics like “Relax and dream one day at a time/Let the beauty of the music start to heal your life,” is an example of the mantra-like cadence to which Twiddle excels. Housed right in the middle of the album, the track is a feel-good song that showcases the perfect blend of sing-along lyrics and danceable music. It also holds one of the few illustrations into the band’s jam capability, with a minor but beautifully finished guitar solo from Savoulidis.
Highlighting the album is “Every Soul,” which features Todd Stoops (RAQ, Oktopus). The funky yet seamless track is truly a showpiece for bassist Zdenek Gubb who drives a steady and unstoppable bass line throughout the song that stops only for a musical showdown between Gubb, Stoops and keyboardist Ryan Dempsey. While Stoops lays down his signature sound of wonk and wobble throughout the song, Dempsey counters with classical key work that sounds both studied and whimsical. Behind the kit, drummer Brook Jordan creates a supernatural disco-style rhythm that serves as the foundation for the highly intoxicating and powerful song. It’s a sound that Twiddle explores often in the live improvisational formula, but doesn’t reveal often in the studio form—a sign that the band has plenty of diversity in its arsenal and room to grow musically.
Saxophonist Kenny Brooks (Alphabet Soup, RatDog) makes a guest appearance on “Be There.” The song is an ideal vehicle for Brooks’ warm and charming sound, and the heartfelt track is reminiscent of the vibe created in early Dave Matthews/LeeRoi Moore collaborations. However, the beauty of “Be There” gets slightly lost in its placement, as the tender moment is sandwiched between two of the album’s heavier hitting tracks.
PLUMP–Chapter One reveals much growth for the band. Dempsey places well-manicured piano rifts and keys throughout the album that create a silky, romantic appeal to some of the record’s quieter moments. Without the jam vehicle, Dempsey is forced to use his classical training to make a statement. And Savoulidis makes much better use of his distinctive vocal tone. Unlike the band’s two-disc set Live, recorded from the famed Vermont club Nectar’s, this latest compilation isn’t scattered with unforgiving vocal runs or muffled lyrics. Perhaps it’s merely the growth provided by studio tracking versus the ability to experiment through live performance, or the realization that if you have something worth saying, you probably want to make sure it can be heard. Regardless, Savoulidis hits notes with laser-point precision and delivers lyrics with crystal-clear distinction.
One of the biggest misses for the album is the vocal exploration between Savoulidis and Jordan. Although Jordan has his own vocal vehicle on the folkish “Dusk til Dawn,” there are only minor moments of harmony between the band’s two main vocalists. Jordan’s smooth and milky tone has the opportunity to complement Savoulidis’ smoky and raspier vocal quality. However, even on tracks where harmonies are present like “White Light” and “Polluted Beauty,” the pairing isn’t emphasized enough to truly hear it.
While a track list has yet to be announced for Plump–Chapter Two, it can be expected that the album will drop sometime in spring 2016. And this is leaving online fan groups abuzz with the possibilities. Will Chapter 2 showcase Twiddle’s more instrumental and improvisational side? Will their previously unrecorded jam-worthy songs like “Gatsby the Great” or “Zazu’s Flight” find their way on the second disc? Will they showcase a more playful side through songs like “Cabbage Face,” “Mamunes the Faun” or “Brown Chicken Brown Cow”?
What Plump–Chapter One proves, at least on the surface, is that Twiddle doesn’t want to remain a second-tier festival group. The record’s polished finish is intended to attract listeners that may stumble upon the album, while the songs demonstrate that Twiddle has an ear to create hits that resonate with the community it represents. But as Twiddle continues to find success and its fanbase grows, can the group continue to create music that intrigues new listeners without compromising the band’s musical integrity and its supportive community? Plump seems to be poised to place Twiddle directly in the path to find out.
PLUMP–Chapter One officially drops on iTunes, CD Baby and Spotify Streaming on Dec. 11.
Key Tracks: “Every Soul,” “Lost in the Cold,” “Syncopated Healing”