Sound: Looking at the Casket Salesmen, you're likely to be surprised at what kind of music they have to offer. The two-man band comprised of guitarist Nathan Lindeman and vocalist/bassist/guitarist Phil Pirrone look more like they would play an Allman Brothers-esque genre, but these boys have actually created a sound that is more likely to find a kindred spirit in Pink Floyd. On the band's debut album Sleeping Giants, there are plenty of high points along the way and it almost feels like a conglomeration of Floyd material -- as well as plenty of other legendary contemporary bands.
Formed after a 2005 car crash that Pirrone was in, the duo left their former band A Static Lullaby, did some soul searching, and ended up creating the Casket Salesmen. From the name of the band and its song titles, you might be thinking that there is a touch of wit in each track. With titles like Dr. Jesus and The Anaheimlich Maneuver, that would absolutely be a fair assumption. But quite to the contrary, they approach their music in a very focused and musically advanced way that leaves little room for comedy. Listeners can pick up on this quickly after hearing the intro track Feeling Ten Feet Tall Part One, which features a grooving bass line with a distortion-laced guitar over the top that feels like it could come from Queens Of The Stone Age. By the end of the intro, there's a hodgepodge of feedback and space-age sound effects that really sets the stage well for the tracks that will follow.
There are plenty of different styles that the Casket Salesmen include in their songs and they actually do a satisfying job at tackling each of them. At times, the record almost has a Tool-like sound to it as well. In Dr. Jesus, a breakdown occurs that features a primal percussive element, a prominent bass line, while the guitar adds in atmospheric effects. But just when you think they are veering to a progressive metal, they unexpectedly shift to a jazz style in Anaheimlich Maneuver. The song showcases a sexy saxophone solo by Steve Borth (formerly of the RX Bandits) that makes you feel like you're in a smoky, intimate jazz club. The style changes are huge at times, but the band does it in a way that works well with the base composition.
There is a definitely a hazy feeling to most of the record, not quite like a Pink Floyd or even a Secret Machines record, but it is still heavy on the atmospheric quality. This aspect adds a lot to the sound, but the muted tone unfortunately makes it hard to understand what Pirrone is singing at times. You can definitely hear that he has a pleasing singing tone, but what he's actually relaying in his lyrics is a mystery at many points. // 9
Lyrics: At the time of this review, lyrics had not yet been printed up for Sleeping Giants, so deciphering them was a bit tough at times. Given the titles of some of the songs (Forked Tongues and Goodnight Judgish), it is apparent that the group puts thought into what they are saying. Pirrone has said in interviews that I'll Buy That For A Dollar was inspired by the tough times he experienced with his former band and it was a way to realize that he'd be able to get through the tough times. At this point, we'll take his word for it.
There is a nice twist on an old phrase in Anaheimlich Maneuver. Pirrone sings, Seems like a nice day to fly; Birds of a feather get shot down together; We don't mind the weather when we're brothers going down. The interesting take on the adage and actually creates a nice metaphoric aspect to the rest of the song. While not every lyric can be understood, the words that can have a consistent theme that many other bands' songs lack. // 8
Overall Impression: The Casket Salesmen have accomplished a lot considering that most of it was done with only two men at the helm. The band did bring in guest studio musicians (and have a more complete line-up for their stage shows as well), but their compositions should be recognized for their complexity. While the songs don't reach the awe-inspiring brilliance of Pink Floyd, they do have almost a cinematic, larger-than-life quality that makes them extremely intriguing.
The general public may not be ready for the Casket Salesmen, as is the case with other progressive bands that delve into longer song lengths, changing rhythms, and alternate voicings. Art Sandwich is a great example of the Casket Salesmen's ability to successfully alter the song style at multiple times, but still have a cohesive piece of music on their hands. Even if their sound might be a bit too much for some ears, there will likely still be a strong fan base out there that will be overjoyed at hearing a bit more than what they find on the radio these days. // 9