Joho – Dirk Turquoise & The Grimy Pastels – Parliament Of Fools – Album Review
Apparently…hmm…apparently Joho wasn’t quite satisfied with what he’s accomplished in the past already, he’s clearly now decided that he needs to try other styles of music to discover any other hooks out there that haven’t been written yet & claim them all for himself.
Save some ideas for the rest of us will ya Joho?
Obviously I’m giving the man a hard time in good fun – I’m very excited about what Joho has done here. If you’ve read my reviews on his music in the past through albums like Nocturnal Daydreams, Youth In Retrospect, or his work on the Echo Park Expressions record, you know it’s no secret that I’m actually quite a sincere fan of this guy. I’ve yet to accuse Joho of getting everything completely right on an album – but man does the dude get close every single time, and he’s proven to be one of the most diverse & versatile artists in the scene today with instincts that are pretty much unparalleled. When it comes to writing a hook and the understanding of what grabs our attention as listeners – Joho ends up putting on an audible clinic & details the blueprint for the rest of us to follow…he’s that good. More importantly, pass or fail, he’s shown us the creative courage to go after his dreams with full force; he’ll try damn near about anything in pursuit of the art – and I’ve got massive respect for that. There are far, far too many artists/bands out there in this world that don’t give themselves the freedom to change even a little bit from what they’ve become comfortable with. Think about it – 99% of the music you probably listen to comes from artists/bands that lock into a vibe and likely continued to rock a version of that until the records finally stopped coming out. If they were LUCKY, those records stopped because of old age…but if we’re also including The Rolling Stones in this conversation and acknowledging their existence, then we have to also acknowledge that old age would hardly be any kind of excuse for the rest of us mere mortals. If they can rock til they’re all 150 or however old they are now, then chances are, we’ve all got that in us somewhere. The real facts are that those records stop coming one day because an artist/band has run out of ideas, something to say, or their reason to exist – and almost all of those things can be avoided entirely if you’re like Joho and allow yourself the opportunity to try anything & everything without fear of a phantom social-contract. Maybe something works, maybe something doesn’t, maybe you get criticized, maybe you don’t – the point is that you did what you did because you loved doing it and nothing more. And if you ask me…I can’t imagine a better way to live. I wish everyone out there had Joho’s courage, artistic integrity, and fearless approach to music, sincerely.
So here we are…with an example of exactly what I’m talking about…a new record by Joho, yes…but you’ll notice the credits are attached as well to Dirk Turquoise & The Grimy Pastels too. I’ve heard the names of a few personas in my lifetime folks…this grey in my beard don’t lie…but I have the feeling that, well…let’s just say I think it’s gonna be a very, very, long time before I hear a name that rivals this one.
Forget what you think you might know about Joho and push play for an all-new experience with his music on Parliament Of Fools unlike any you’ve previously heard. Aside from a stellar lineup of cuts that reveal the fact his songwriting style basically can’t fail in any genre, that’s about the only thing you might have a chance of recognizing between the past of his music and the present record in review here – good ol’ Joho has gone full into Alt-Rock/Power-Pop terrain here…maybe even a bit of Punk thrown in.
Admit it…if you know Joho’s music, chances are that wasn’t what you were expecting me to say. Like I was telling ya…the Joho you know is nearly nowhere to be found here – he’s slipped right into this character of Dirk Turquoise and a whole different style of sound with The Grimy Pastels, you feel me? And as a result, from the moment you push play on Parliament Of Fools, you won’t find much of that Joho you know yo – this is a full-on different side of his sound with entirely different ambitions for it.
So “Get Over It, Or Don’t, It’s Your Choice” – that’s how Joho’s comin’ atcha as Dirk Turquoise & The Grimy Pastels – feel however you feel about it. You do you, he’ll do him – and that’s the way life should really be when it comes to creating art of any kind, in my opinion. One of the shortest cuts on the record or perhaps THE shortest cut on Parliament Of Fools if you factor in the crowd noise surrounding the meat of the song, “Get Over It, Or Don’t, It’s Your Choice” reveals a fantastic dose of colorful guitars and big vocal harmonies. If you’re familiar with your 90s music, you’d appreciate the fact that a track like “Get Over It, Or Don’t, It’s Your Choice” could easily feel right at home on say like, either of the first couple records by Oasis, or maybe Green by R.E.M. – it’s got that real bold-rock sound & playful melody combination that pumps out relentlessly catchy vibes. It also has that magic you wanna hear in the beginning of a record, that intangible spark that seemingly comes out of thin-air and into existence through your speakers. Overall, I’m probably a much bigger fan of the verses and the exit out of the main hooks as opposed to the meat of the main hooks in the chorus, but that’s an alright problem to have in my books…every once in a while, you’re gonna write a verse that outshines a chorus and that’s A-OK with me. Great instrumentation & thick bold tones coming from the guitars, solid punch into the music as it heads into the thirty-second mark, and some of what becomes my favorite harmonies from Joho when he’s backing himself up throughout the verses on this first offering from Parliament Of Fools.
While “Get Over It, Or Don’t, It’s Your Choice” definitely gives the opening to this record a good start, that’s exactly what it is – and when you hear “The Bear Dog Of El Paso,” you’ll immediately recognize the difference between what’s a solid beginning, and what’s a really damn great song all-around. As far as his vocal melodies, flow, and energy are concerned, you simply cannot beat what Joho has created in the hooks of the chorus of “The Bear Dog Of El Paso” – the writing is fantastic to start with, but he’s really nailed this performance perfectly in the execution as well. There are a couple of cuts on this record that reveal what I’d say is the influence of a band like The Cure or the Post-Punk vibes of the late 80’s/early 90’s – you’ll hear a song like “The Bear Dog Of El Paso” and likely discover that the roots of its structure & the way it hooks you in through its exceptional balance between the music & vocals will rival or at least seem similar to something like the formula for massive hits like “Boys Don’t Cry.” So again, if you’re familiar with the era and with that reference in particular, you know you’ll discover all kinds of incredibly colorful & radiant hooks to be found in both the music and what’s coming atcha from the microphone on a track like “The Bear Dog Of El Paso.” I’d definitely be taking a hard look at this song as a lead-single to entice people into listening to this record; after several spins & tours through this lineup of tunes created for Joho’s new side-project persona as Dirk Turquoise, it becomes clearer & clearer each time you hear “The Bear Dog Of El Paso” that this is the most undeniably single-worthy cut on the album. The energy is infectious in all the right ways, the vocals are a huge highlight for Joho’s music on any side of his catalog and what he’s put out there – and his instincts on how to make a hook land 100% lead him in every right direction here from the backup vocals to the remarkable performance up front. To say I’ve road-tested this song would be to put it mildly – if there was any possible way to wear out the incredible hooks he’s written into this chorus or dull the energy Joho puts into this song by repeating it over & over & over, believe me when I say I’ve played it more than enough to have found out by now. Absolutely one of the highlights of 2020…the hooks & energy are freakin’ spectacular on “The Bear Dog Of El Paso” – check it out below!
“From Bosnia With Love” has the advantage of being a tight just-over two-minute tune that leans heavily on its energy & hooks continuously coming at you. From a writing standpoint, from the execution in the music & vocals – I think that, even though this particular cut doesn’t quite possess the same magic I love in a song like “The Bear Dog Of El Paso,” it has a more Punk-based appeal that’s bound to attract a whole different dimension of the audience for this record. What bugs me, and I ain’t gonna lie to the man or mince words when it comes to “From Bosnia With Love,” is its production. In Joho’s defense, he’s actually working with a fairly modern-day mix & vibe here – you’ll know it when you hear it, “From Bosnia With Love” comes in bursts of sonic waves that have it feeling like it’s practically breathing in & out of your speakers as you listen. So don’t get me wrong…I don’t think it’s an accident, I’m sure it’s likely on purpose, and I’m fully aware of all the people out there that must be digging on that production gimmick for it to be showing up in as many songs as I tend to hear it in these days. Hopefully it’s not just the sound of people out there wrestling with the compression settings, which to be honest, it could be in many of these cases…but the mere fact that this style of sound continues to show up and is left intact is all the confirmation you need to know that several someones out there are really hooked on that approach. For myself personally, it’s like the audio-equivalent to a writer breaking that suspension of disbelief with a line that doesn’t quite fit with the rest…it’s the waviness in the sound that seems to pull me out of the rest of the song and makes it much harder to focus in on the rest of what’s going so well in his favor. The energy & enthusiasm are there without question when it comes to “From Bosnia With Love,” but I came outta this one appreciating the idea more than how it turned out.
Dirk Turquoise & The Grimy Pastels right the course quickly with “The Solitary Sea Turtle” and get the Power-Pop/Punk dimension fired-up perfectly in the melody that flows throughout this gem on Parliament Of Fools. I’ve got nothing to complain about when it comes to this song – I think Joho does an exceptional job singing it, and I think you’ll find one of the best guitar solos that you’ll hear in any of the cuts in his entire catalog when it comes to this track as well. “The Solitary Sea Turtle” is a magnificent example of how we all have to write about SOMETHING – and that the ‘something’ artists & bands end up choosing can often surprise you to the nth degree. Would I have assumed I’d find a song written from the perspective of a sea turtle somewhere in the set-list of Parliament Of Fools before I had pushed play? Of course not! Nor would I assume that on like…ANY album I suppose. What’s remarkable is how effective some of these unexpected twists can become…sometimes writing outside of what you might typically, or dialing into a certain subject or theme that’s never been done before, can yield incredibly enticing results, because it ends up being just as new for us as listeners as it is for the artist or band to create. Never underestimate the allure of something that’s genuinely unlike anything else…that interest applied by Joho to “The Solitary Sea Turtle” translates directly to us – I wanna know where this little guy is floating off to in the middle of the water out there and if he’ll ever make it to his final destination! And in the meantime, I get to enjoy the crunchy chords & crisp snare snaps, in addition to key elements like the piano-keys that show up and the flashy hooks found in the chorus. Designed to get you movin’ and singing along – like I said, I probably wouldn’t have predicted I’d find a song about a sea turtle that I’d ever love as much as I do this one, but here we are, and that’s the case.
“Pucker Up, Buttercup” could be compared to the vibes you’d hear on Soundtracks like Empire Records or Dumb And Dumber from back in the day…fitting itself somewhere in between bands like Echobelly for its structure & flow, with a something like Feeder shaping its overall combination of gritty Pop sound. Part of me feels like “Pucker Up, Buttercup” is almost so solid & reliable that people might not even HEAR it…ultimately, this whole song is a vibe & hook that never runs dry…and it could be because of just how tight it actually is that this track might fly right by listeners at first. They’ll come back to it and realize its contribution to this record later on though, and that’s what’s most important; I felt like the more spins I took through Dirk Turquoise & The Grimy Pastels’ Parliament Of Fools that the appeal of “Pucker Up, Buttercup” increased every single time. Sure it’s always ideal when an artist or band will make it easy on us listeners (and reviewers!) by having that one or two moments in a song that ends up defining the rest…that meaty hook that you can’t help but hear when it shows up…but there’s also something to be said on behalf of songs like this that display such impeccable balance in their strengths. I listen to “Pucker Up, Buttercup” and it doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything at all, despite not having that one giant stand-out hook – when things flow with the sleek smoothness in the melody & design like you’ll hear Joho bring to this song, you’re more than satisfied in riding this experience out for what it is.
Somewhere in between the worlds of sound created by The Cure and Rancid, you’ll find a song like “Meltdown On The Meadow” exists & thrives. For myself personally, I found this cut grew on me more quickly than I thought it might at first; don’t get me wrong, I’m in love with anything that even slightly reminds me of The Cure and the guitar melodies do that for me here…but dealing with anything that might make me recall Rancid would have been something I thought that would have been harder to overcome. I didn’t mind them, but they never really pulled me in either is all. All that being said, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that “Meltdown On The Meadow” could indeed be one of the stronger cuts on this album here…there’s something really magical in the up-tempo grip that this song’s energy puts on ya…quite honestly, these would be extremely hard hooks to resist. I love the distance in the guitars, I think Joho’s found an awesome vocal melody & flow that not only works, but gives off that extra hint & edge of attitude that’s oh-so-essential to anything with Punk roots, which this song definitely has, despite what seems like a much sweeter demeanor. At the end of the day, if you’re listening close, you’ll hear the classic ingredients of the genre for sure, but with the distance applied to the instrumentation and the Pop-inspired twist on the main hooks, “Meltdown On The Meadow” becomes a much more versatile experience than you might first assume. As Joho surges into the finale with still more than a minute to go and amps up his own energy in his performance on the mic, I had moments on those first couple spins where I wasn’t completely sure it all worked…and in a perfect example of what it’s like to get right into the music & really listen, by that third or fourth spin, I was hopelessly addicted. All-in-all, I’d probably still go with “The Bear Dog Of El Paso” as the lead-single if push came to shove – but I’d be mighty tempted to turn up “Meltdown On The Meadow” for serious consideration in protest.
You gotta love the way the drums get “To The True Meaning” rolling along brilliantly from moment one as well…you’re immediately hooked into the energy of Dirk Turquoise & The Grimy Pastels here, and you’ll find that Joho’s done an exceptional job of creating a truly solid & memorable highlight here. You’d be looking at something a bit closer to the Jimmy Eat World formula for how this song unfolds & expands to reveal such impressive depths of emotion in the chorus – you can feel that there’s an importance that’s attached to this song from the moment it starts to the moment it ends…a connection between the main star of the show and his material that can’t be denied. I dig that Joho’s kept that live-audience cheering at a low-roar throughout this lineup of songs as well, it really ties the whole experience of listening to this record together and has you really appreciating how well this album would work out on the stages played live. Great rhythm established between the layers of what you’ll hear from the microphone, the drums, and the guitars all firing-off in tandem with their own significant parts & ways they all contribute to the end results…each element on its own is impressive for its own reasons for sure, but a track like “To The True Meaning” highlights the dimensions in the layers of sound at work as it all gets combined. Powerful emotion on display and real conviction behind his words, Joho sings with fantastic confidence as the words come flyin’ at ya quickly, but never without the melody & energy they need to land successfully. If you’re listening closely, you’ll hear in the layers of vocals, one in particular hits that extra edge & rasp you wanna hear in moments of transition like you’ll hear on “To The True Meaning,” where the vocals really end up echoing that rise of intensity you’ll find in the music.
I think there’s a ton of people out there that will appreciate “Black Man” not only for its message, but for the approach that Joho’s taken towards this cut. Providing perspective, a point of view, thoughts & feelings on social issues, “Black Man” goes on to express a ton of significant & highly relevant points throughout the lyricism you’ll find – and I have a theory as to why these messages will reach the ears their intended to. When you listen to “Black Man” – what do you notice most, aside from the words? How about the wildly colorful vibes, the expressive & celebratory sound, the catchy hooks? Any of these elements could be what grabs your attention the most on those first couple spins before you put the full context & scope of this song together to discover just how much is being communicated here – but the real point is, this is a massively different approach to the combination of message & music than so many of us are used to. We think of protest songs, and chances are, most of you out there associate those with either highly aggressive testosterone-fueled Rock, or the typical Folk-hero with a guitar on their own; and with the hybrid array of vibrant sound on display ranging from light Funk to its Gospel inspired hooks towards the end, you’ll appreciate the unique spin that Joho has taken towards making music that’s more important than another mere set of catchy sounds. I mean, don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of flashy & catchy music to be found throughout “Black Man,” I’m just saying that the level & degree of uplifting sound that comes with this song and its message makes all the difference in making this stand out from so many others trying to communicate something similar, because it’s unexpected. I guess the best way I can put it is that you’d rarely find a song that dives as deep as this one does also be a song that you’d end up singing along with at the top of your lungs; once again, that’s the case & here we are. “Black Man” is triumphantly confident and beams out the love, even while it’s dealing with what are unquestionably the heaviest topics & themes that you’ll find in any cut on Parliament Of Fools.
A track like “We Should Watch Sky High” definitely hits that mark for the new-school of Punk that was introduced in the early 2000s, relying more on tight songwriting, harmonies, and melody to make its mark in down-tempo vibes, as opposed to the more traditional grip & rip of the ol’ four on the floor. More towards the Blink 182 influence…y’all know what I’m talking about…the Punk-but-not-Punk crowd that were all much more Pop-based than their hardcore tattoos would ever allow them to fully admit. Personally, my main concern was whether or not this was a song that was going to be about watching the movie Sky High from 2005 with Kurt Russell…I did more than a decade in a video rental store back in the day, so believe me when I say I’ve more than done my time with anything that was rated G or PG, which were constantly rotating above my head on repeat while I was helping customers. With all the superhero references you’ll find in this cut…I mean hey, I can’t rule out that it’s not actually a song about watching Sky High and dreaming about the possibilities of life & love & all that…at the end of the day, I once again have to subscribe to the theory that we all have to write about SOMETHING. Having said that, I can get behind a song about “The Solitary Sea Turtle” much more readily than I’d likely jump up & down in support of a cut based on a Kurt Russell movie…but if we’re talking about hooks & appeal & all-that as opposed to themes & lyrics etc., I can’t argue against this being another extremely effective & memorable song on this record. Chances are, the Sky High reference is likely to fly by most listeners anyhow…assuming that my assumption is correct; and if that is the case, a shout-out of R.I.P. to Kelly Preston, who also starred in that same movie with Kurt and died very recently on the 12th of July, 2020. Excellent guitars, uplifting vibes soar throughout the atmosphere, harmonies, and melody of the hooks & music…another amazing solo in this track for ya…there’s plenty to keep you fully entertained 100%.
Coming back for an encore & taking the last cut as an opportunity to create a self-anthem to celebrate the persona of “Dirk Turquoise,” Joho gives you the rumble, crunch, and spark of anticipation as to where this song will head to next as he makes his way through the verses of the final track. I’ll put it to ya this way…the man is having some fun here, and at the end of the day I have just as much love for that being a reason to make music than just about any other you can think of – that’s valid. I think he’s got a lot of sweetness squeezed into his lyricism, and I think when he hits that switch and turns on the juice for the final ninety seconds, “Dirk Turquoise” really finds its strongest moments, which is a good thing, because these are the notes he’ll leave you with at the very end of Parliament Of Fools. That time to induce the feeling of a repeat is essential at the end of any record, and I’d be happy to argue on behalf of “Dirk Turquoise” coming alive with that extra 10% you wanna hear in that last minute & a half to give you exactly what you’re looking for in a finale. All that squishy good stuff being said, “Dirk Turquoise” is over five-minutes long, and the distance we travel from beginning to end is much more up for debate. I’d give it about a 50/50 chance of being TOO stuffed with sweetness for many of the punkers out there & the alternative crowd…and likely the oddest twist is that, even though it finds its legs by the very end, the travel to get there is a bit more in the realm of what you’d expect, as opposed to the way Joho typically uses his gift of expression to surprise you. I suppose I ended up feeling like “Dirk Turquoise” was focused on summing up this whole experience, this record, Joho’s intentions…and full credit where credit is due, I think he’s done that; what I wasn’t as sure of is whether or not this last cut pushed him far enough to further the story of this record, as opposed to kind of recap its mission statement & his ambitions instead. Fairly natural for me to try to resist any song out there that encourages me to dance – I was born in the Grunge era…that wasn’t our jam – but hey, it might be yours and I certainly wouldn’t make any knocks against a track with the joyful sentiment and pure intentions that this cut contains. Plus, it SOUNDS like it would be an encore song by the time it hits its most intense moments at the end – it’s that one last chance to make that huge impression & give it every last ounce of energy you’ve got; that’s what “Dirk Turquoise” sounds like and the powerful level it reaches in the climax of its finale. Can’t complain with an ending like that at the end of the day…as long as you get there, you get there, know what I mean? Sometimes the ride through a song can take a while before you reach its most ultimate payload or massive hook it’ll offer – “Dirk Turquoise” gets it all in the right places by the end, and that’s what matters. Believe me, it’s not like you’ll find there’s any kind of shortage on entertainment in the rest of this record to begin with – Joho’s always got something worthwhile for your ears, and he’s proven to thrive in multiple environments with a master’s grip on what music’s all about.
Find Dirk Turquoise & The Grimy Pastels new record Parliament Of Fools and more music from Joho at his official Spotify page right here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/7Kqti993MKMucvQDQDHYhv
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