Coming into work at KSPC can be somewhat of an adventure. I can listen to dozens of CDs and pull out maybe one or two that I want to review and program. I can hear 6 CDs in a row and instantly fall in love with every last one of them. But rarely do I hear something that is as straightforward as it is baffling, as satirical as it is self-aware and as ridiculous as it is serious. If you’ve been here for any length of time and have fond memories of Randall sitting atop the fridge here at the KSPC basement, you know I’m talking about Phoenix’s own Treasure Mammal.
Their newest album Checkognize was recorded from January 2008 to January 2012 and mastered in Tempe, Arizona. Visually, the album is stunning. With an abstract rainbow drawing (pictured just below this paragraph), I opened the album sleeve to reveal an earthy green, opaque, tie-dyed beauty of an album. T-Mam certainly didn’t skimp on the aesthetics here.
Short of giving a track by track review, I’ll let you in on some of the highlights of this tour de force of an album.
Treasure Mammal dives right in to the zaniness with a tribal chant on the first track on Side A, “Dikembe Mutumbo.” The frantic drums continue for quite a while before a voice is heard…. “Dikembe! Mutumbo! Dikembe! Mutumbo!” It continues for a while, losing no strength or bewilderment along the way. Now, that was strange and glorious enough for my ears to behold so early in the day, but little did I know what would follow it on the second track, “Real Talk.” Demanding “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” this song covers everything from Dr. Phil to God to patriarchy to UFC steel cage matches. And not to mention it’s all done in a glitchy, house-influenced rap style. Yeah, I know!
Other highlights on side A include “Bromance” (title self-explanatory) and Maverick, a frantic and very much after 10 ode to mavericks everywhere.
Side B is not without its share of strange brilliance. A personal favorite of mine, perhaps due to my inexplicable interest in Billy Joel, is Treasure Mammal’s soul shaking, nearly 8-bit cover of Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” I have no way to describe it other than it takes the classic song, inverts it, adds way too much synth (which is just what I prefer), and delivers it to your heart in a way that has you wondering how you ever listened to this song any other way before. Though this was definitely the highlight for me, the album again picks up satirical speed with tracks like “Stevie Wonder to the Bulls***” and “Dream Girl,” which was reminiscent to me of the Flight of the Conchord’s song “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room,” to give you an idea of which direction T-Mam is working in.
As a final comment on this groundbreaking LP, I’d like to look to the very last song on side B, and incidentally the title track, “Checkognize.” Since this track does follow the ominously named “Stevie Wonder to the Bulls***,” I was expecting something silly, light, upbeat…. heck, at this point tribal chants wouldn’t even surprise me much. What I got however was something that was thoughtful, purposeful, and most of all… dare I say…. beautiful. With inspiring lines like, “And now it’s time, and now it’s time to look around you right now. The people in this place won’t last forever… live for now- check your life. Recognize,” a slow tear almost rolled down my cheek. This album, while definitely silly and parodic, is incredibly thoughtful and connected with me through its humor and creativity. I could say more, but this is long enough, and rather than reading you should go out and listen to this. I’d highly recommend buying the LP, everything about it is beautiful.
p.s. if you’re in LA, catch Treasure Mammal at the Smell on 5/18 starting at 8:30 pm. Tickets are $5 at the door.