Baby Ray, Sool, and the Weisstronauts -- otherwise known as three of the area's cleverest, most idiosyncratic bands -- are doing something suitably idiosyncratic and clever. They're holding not one, not two, but three CD-release parties simultaneously tomorrow night at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge.
Given the myriad musicians who'll be sharing the Lizard's parlorlike stage, and the fact that all three bands share several members -- now that's teamwork! -- we thought we'd provide readers with a thumbnail sketch /refresher course concerning the principals. Now you can keep score of who's who while you're being entertained. Don't say we didn't ever do anything for you.
Considered at the turn of the century among Boston's best practitioners of XTC-ish prog-pop, Baby Ray returns with its fourth disc, ``Low Rises," after a long layoff that followed its split with New York indie Thirsty Ear. The original foursome (singer-bassist Erich Groat, singer-guitarist Ken Lafler, bassist Paul Simonoff, drummer Nathan Logus) has found a new home with Philadelphia's Dren Records.
The bulk of ``Low Rises" was originally recorded in 1999 in the Adirondack Mountains where, as Groat puts it, ``we saw lots of wild turkeys, drank lots of Wild Turkey, chased a moose, and nearly fell off a high dam." The CD represents a triumph for a band that also seemed to fall precipitously from hard-won heights.
``This album really had to fight for its life," says Lafler. ``It sat on the shelf for a lot of reasons that must have made sense at the time but make so little sense now that I can't remember them. A few years later, Erich and I revisited this stuff and realized that it was a damn fine record." A reunion show last year brought the project back into focus.
``Low Rises" is signature Baby Ray, spring-loaded with pretzel-shaped chord progressions, Groat's Scrabble wordplay, and a keen pop sensibility that's equal parts snark and sincerity. Despite the fact that each of its members play with other bands (Logus drums for the Boston glam-soul band the Rudds, for example, and Simonoff plays keyboards for Boston's Francine), there remains a special chemistry to Baby Ray. Just don't ask the band to explain what that is.
``We don't know -- at least I don't know," says Groat. ``It seems to have nothing to do with us, even though [the sound ] relies crucially on us."
Who else but Sool, a trio of old friends, would take seriously the idea of recording 52 tracks consisting of miniaturist pop ditties, Mike Nesmith-style country-rock, random radio chatter, and meditations on the '80 s cult movie ``Robocop"? And who else but Sool could make it work? In under an hour, no less.
``Radio freak show" is how Sool's Kevin Quinn describes the band's sophomore disc, ``Sooltime." Quinn says that ``when work on the album started, Neal [Spaulding, whom Quinn has known since both were 13-year-olds growing up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.] was living in North Carolina, so all of us getting together for a recording session was difficult. We felt pressured to accomplish a lot as quickly as possible. Somehow, we thought shorter songs would achieve this. In the end, it was actually tougher than just recording a handful of three-minute songs."
``Sooltime" is full of crackpot ideas and mini-motifs in tracks titled ``Hot Banana," ``Clam Cause," and songs about ``Robocop" (a flick Sool has never seen, incidentally). It's prankishly funny, but it rocks across a spectrum of styles. Think of it as a peculiar concept album growing like a mushroom out of left field. So, who listens to this stuff?
``We'd like to think that there are folks out there who don't take things too seriously and would enjoy a break from `Law & Order' in exchange for Sid and Marty Krofft every now and again," says Spaulding. ``Surely, there has to be a small market for our brand of post-retro-pseudo-intellectual bubble gum."
Band namesake Pete Weiss can write songs -- and feel them -- just about anywhere. That shouldn't come as a surprise, since he spends his waking life surrounded by music. When he's not playing with the surf-twang, all-instrumental combo Weisstronauts, or those wacky experimentalists Sool, the founder of Zippah Studio in Brookline engineers and produces bands of all stripes at his new home recording complex in Vermont.
Then there are the odder moments of inspiration. ``Food can play a role with me," says Weiss. ``I wrote the main part of `The Golden Egg' (from the Weisstronauts' new CD, `Featuring ``Perky" ') after having a really good meal at a cafe in Vermont called The Golden Egg. I was very full, low energy. The blood was heading from my brain to my stomach and I started feeling this particular chord pattern, with a lazy, loping rhythm."
Make no mistake, though. The Weisstronauts' brand of would-be soundtrack music is anything but lazy. Each of the 'Nauts ' four albums features an array of some of the best local musicians around, stretching out and feeding off of each other's sense of adventure. There's also a bit of humor involved, as you might guess from each album's cover theme of a man-size monkey in a Shriner's cap (the gent's name is ``Jaunty") taking in the prestigious sights of Saugus: Miniature golf courses. Diners. Strip clubs. That tongue-in-cheek approach extends to the music.
"I've never really found myself seeking out a lot of depressing music," Weiss says. "Serious music, yes. Funny music, yes. And yes, even novelty music sometimes. But if I want to feel saddened and morose, all I need to do is pick up a newspaper."
The triple CD-release party for Baby Ray, Sool, and the Weisstronauts begins at 9:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Lizard Lounge, 1667 Mass. Ave., Cambridge. Advance tickets are $8 at www.virtuous.com or $10 at the door. Call 617-547-0759 for details.