"Kumquats and Lychees" by Baltimore, Maryland's Leprechaun Catering, a.k.a. Tom Boram and Jason Willett, is a much-welcomed blast of trout-masked madness. This shameless and unrestrained duo whip up an improvisational whirlwind of ramshackle rhythms, chunky be-bopped chops, and wild electronic spasms.
Their music convokes a kind of chaos that always sounds as if it's about to reel out of control. The two abuse their electronic gadgets and stab at their instruments the way hyenas tear into a fresh-killed fawn. If Leon Theremin knew how Boram defiled his electromagnetic invention he'd breakdance and backspin in his grave.
In a live setting, the duo is a tornado of flailing limbs and twisting torsos, projectile drumsticks and flying fingers. "Lychees" -- a vinyl-only release -- is the sound of band struggling to stay one step ahead of its craft. In this time of tight-lipped talk and repressed dissent, Leprechaun Catering's debut release of untangled tension and slippery slobber is sure to unleash a primal scream from even the most rigid of hipsters."
"Baltimore’s Leprechaun Catering is comprised of Jason Willett, Tom Boram and a shitload of electronic devices. And they live together! Just like The Monkees! This album was released in early 2004. Only 300 were made, but we managed to get one.
The album starts out with a semi-normal funky guitar rhythm. A synth joins in, and before long everything is dismantled. Electrons are ripped from their atoms like wings from a fly. The nuclei that remain are pulverized into quarks. Inside the quarks are multidimensional vibrating superstrings. The question becomes How does one mic subatomic particles?
The music is cacophonous in a humorous, good way. Synthesized sounds and samples are looped and set against each other. Then the whole thing is left alone to work itself out. It’s the electronic music version of intelligent design. If the music thing doesn’t work out, these guys could make a fortune selling cell phone ring tones.
Inside the album is a lyrics sheet, even though there is no language on this (except for a few words at the end of the Kumquat side). Feel free to declaim the lyrics in a loud voice as you play this, but make sure the microphone is off.
Scientists believe that in approximately 20,000 years humans will have evolved the ability to understand and appreciate this music. It will be several tens of millennia more before humans have the physical capability of dancing to it."
"The duo of Jason Willett and Tom Boram achieve the near impossible with Leprechaun Catering’s debut: completely out-of-pocket tweakery overstuffed with dance hooks. What kind of dancing is the mirthful question, and Lychees and Kumquats’ bubbling ruckus of gurgling tones and rhythmic gibberish—hardly anything on this album sounds like a discreetly recognizable sound, the closest satellite in its orbit being the Boredoms’ Pop Tatari—doesn’t care how you shake your money maker, only that when you dance your mess around you don’t care how ridiculous you may look. A great a philosophy to live by if there ever was one."
"Onstage, a typical Leprechaun Catering show looks like this: The sound team of Tom Boram and Jason Willett, as lithe and graceful as anime characters, gesture in tight flourishes at their instruments, standing upright and alert to every detail. Across tables of exotic electronic boxes, they lean into their beats, grooving along like Martha and the Vandellas until the groove twists and opens into splattered electronics. Boram's fingers flutter a theremin, sliding liquid zippers over rhythm boxes--who knows how many of them--that sputter with bonus buzz hits from some boxed doodads. After simultaneous wicked electric-guitar solos, both step back, Willett rolling and lighting a Gauloise and passing his lighter to Boram, who sparks his Holmesian tobacco pipe, and both stand motionless in the sonic miasma for a couple of minutes before wordlessly flipping off their gear. After some bewildered but heartfelt audience applause, the two rev their gear back up for another magical amusement park of sound.
For Willett, Leprechaun Catering's baffling performances are the result of a sense of wonder and mystery. "It's like walking through a door, and every sound is there--a creature and vegetation, water and air," he says, speaking with an elliptical creativity that matches his music. "Every part of the environment to me is very alive. When we step back for a smoke, it's like, 'So what is this place we've created?'"
Boram is equally earnest but prone to delighted giggling that interrupts his speech; he likens their playing to a grown-up game of Mad Libs. "You find a limit and you find a way around it," he says.
Their new LP Lychees and Kumquats (HereSee/Ehse) and CD Mesmerized Ants (Megaphone) play with the boundaries of instrumental music like the fill-in-the-blank game with an imaginative panache and an ear for exploded boundaries. And like their live shows, the results are tons o' fun.
Jason Willett, 36, is one of Baltimore's hidden treasures. An undersung 20-year veteran of weirdo rock with a lifelong history in music, he spent much of his childhood on a farm near Frederick with his mother, herself a songwriter for singers on Motown and Atlantic. Their house was frequented by luminaries of jazz and soul, including Eddie Harris and Cecil Taylor, who once played the house piano. Willett's staunchly individualistic musical path led him to join Half Japanese as bass player and producer for half a dozen records, several tours, and 15 collaborative records with Jad Fair. In Frederick, Willett founded a record store in 1990 and a label in 1992, both called Megaphone. He has released skronking free jazz, retarded no-wave, and art rock by Jac Berrocal, members of Henry Cow, Jon Rose, and numerous bands of Willett and his cronies (the Jaunties, the Pleasant Livers, the Can Openers, the Dramatics, the Attitude Robots, the Recordings and X-Ray Eyes, to name a few), most of it recorded by Willett in the unheated warehouse space that he shared with filmmaker Martha Colburn after moving to Baltimore. His productions spilled over to half a dozen other tiny record labels, such as Menlo Park, RRR, and Alternative Tentacles, before he left for Australia in 1998, where he DJed at a club in Sydney for two years.
Meanwhile, Tom Boram, 29, grew up in Harford County. His father was a Peabody Institute-trained musician who played in Harford County rock bands and whose repertoire, Boram says, included "a lot of Hall and Oates." As a teenager, he loved his father's classical records, an embarrassing trait that says he made his sister swear to secrecy. Ever playful, he remembers passing notes to girls in school, written in sonata form but "all about how I wanted to feel their asses and stuff." After discovering hard rock, dabbling with psychedelic drugs, traveling through India, and studying sitar (which he continues to practice in earnest), he moved to Baltimore around 1999, playing with the oddball group Deviled Eggs. He was quickly adopted by the local free-improvisation scene and began performing with various conglomerations, include his current skittering duo Snacks with Dan Breen, who serve odd treats like durian fruit or candy kebabs at each show.
When Willett returned from Sydney, mutual friends encouraged the two to meet, feeling a common sensibility between them. But it wasn't until they found themselves living together in a Charles Village rowhouse in 2000 that they listened to Beck's Midnight Vultures, looked at each other, and, Willett says, thought, "mega-selling, million-selling band."
Of course, the only thing that stood in their way to mega-success was their own unhinged selves. In their earliest shows, Willett and Boram twanged little riffs into samplers and looped them, piling them teetering-high and giving the impression of four or five players, but the effect was wandering and repetitive. Over the years their methods sharpened, and now their sound is nearly as focused as one of those chopsy prog outfits, but elastic and clattering through a three-story playpen of Krautrock, free improv, and soul. Like an evil jungle princess, Leprechaun Catering is by turns snarling, gleeful, and seductive.
At their North Howard Street digs (yes, Boram and Willett live together, just like the Monkees, but no firehouse pole), Willett burns copies of favorite vintage instrumental funk tracks for future DJ gigs; at the end of May, he's off to tour Norway with Half Japanese. Boram sprinkles glitter on the cases of their new CD as he discusses being inside the Leprechaun Catering sound.
"We tried to do things like other people, but that just stopped," Boram says. "A song for us is just a toolbox."
"You've got a drill and a screwdriver, and I've got a buzz saw," Willett replies.
The metaphorical toolbox is right on. Willett's buzz-saw presence has ripped through dozens of bands and amputated more than a few players' dignities. And Boram's unflappable ease and highflying stylishness put Willett's intensity in sweet and glossy context, but they meet in a vortex of a shared sense of hilarity and sensory overload.
A mixture of inspiration and confusion, the band's recordings are edits of improvisations based around a loose structure. Starting with a few sounds and a couple of rhythms, they model their tunes live with the idea of some standard form--a calypso, for instance--but in the process the sounds take over, other ideas take hold, and they're simply elsewhere. With its little whiffs of the cigarette-and-semen smell of Serge Gainsbourg and a pulsing bliss to rival the Silver Apples, Lychees and Kumquats is as hip and zoinked as Baltimore electronics gets. In a moment of pure unselfconsciousness, someone, somewhere, is gonna jump out of her chair, put her panties on backward, and really shake to it.
And that sort of spontaneous preposterousness is a vibe that Leprechaun Catering owns. Though the original premise of Leprechaun Catering was, Willett says, "to make tons of money," he admits that the dream of cashing flashy checks from their version of Day-Glo party tunes wasn't going to happen. And its music is all the better for it.
"Even a strange-sounding pop band wasn't going to happen," Willett says, without a hint of regret."
"I’ve got no idea what actual leprechauns might bring to a dinner were they to do the catering (purple horseshoes, perhaps?), but on Kumquats, Lychees Tom Boram and Jason Willett provide a healthy serving of exotic fruits, both sweet and sour, and supply the party music as well. The Baltimorean duo fiddle with electronics to create cartoonish improvisations that are equal parts retro-futurist exotica and unhinged, noisy tomfuckery. Willett’s past work with groups like the Dramatics may offer some perspective on Leprechaun Catering’s technicolor tongue-twisters, which also contain fragments of such diverse vocabularies as those of Dick Hyman’s Moog variations, the genre-hopping (and often humorous) improvisation of the ICP Orchestra, and the miniature sounds of some of IDM’s most fractured beatsmiths.
Kumquats, Lychees could easily be the musical output of a children’s story’s magic machine, those looming collections of bellows, gears, cogs, and other moving components, like Willy Wonka’s gobstopper machine in Mel Stuart’s original filmic adaptation of the classic book. Leprechaun Catering employ springy, off-kilter rhythms, and a crowded cacophony of electronic doodads and fluorescent squiggles. Beats are present, but the duo isn’t too reliant on them, often the rhythm of a track finds itself eclipsed by the sounds of an 8-bit video game in the garbage disposal. Critics may find it too cute or overly irreverent, but there’s a mad reasoning behind Kumquats, Lychees, and it’s definitely not simply mindless goofiness. The “stop-motion animation of a Martian dance party done in MS Paint” imagery comes all to easily when listening to Leprechaun Catering, and the LP is fun, to be sure. But to categorize it as only that could obscure the soundplay herein, especially with respect to the layering in which Willett and Boram engage.
The LP may not end up on many best-of lists at the end of 2005, or inspire a bevy of high-minded critical interpretation, but one has to hand it to Leprechaun Catering for making it all sound so easy. Place this platter aside your run-of-the-mill goofball noise/improv chicanery, though, and what these two have to offer should become more evident. They embrace what can easily be a rather flimsy musical concept, usually staying on the right side of the thin line between intelligently silly fun and indistinguishably wacky noodling, and execute all the while with verve and good grace."
"Probably my surprise hit of 2004, I picked it up at the first No Fun Fest because of the ugly screened cover and recommendation by some friendly guy who I think was wearing a fake tail. Brought it home and my stereo started splooging out a colorful mix of burnt electronics, cut-up percussion and the occasional guitar blip. Leprechaun Catering have an incredible mastery of rhythm that most of their contemporaries don't seem to bother with, and they're all the more appealing for it. The record's great, but I became a life-long fan after witnessing their act live, with hands fluttering over theremins like a hummingbird, a huge stack of metal boxes and wires constantly being plucked and hammered, and some sort of rubber/gum material being played like a kazoo. I've since downloaded the entire record off the Ehse Records website and keep a copy of it on CD-r close to my car stereo at all times. If Captain Beefheart grew up with instant messaging and emoticons, his music would be startlingly similar to the work of Leprechaun Catering."