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Music therapy

My son turned to me in the car the other day, and observed, ‘This is the band you’ve been waiting for, isn’t it, Dad?

18 March 2009

12:00 AM

18 March 2009

12:00 AM

My son turned to me in the car the other day, and observed, ‘This is the band you’ve been waiting for, isn’t it, Dad?

My son turned to me in the car the other day, and observed, ‘This is the band you’ve been waiting for, isn’t it, Dad?’ Playing on the car’s CD player, at a volume that would have led my wife to accuse me of deliberately trying to deafen our own child had she been present, was Focus Level by a New York group called Endless Boogie. My God, they hit the spot.

There’s a lovely story about the disc jockey John Peel having to pull over into a lay-by and have a good cry when he first heard ‘Teenage Kicks’ by The Undertones, because its evocation of teenage lust and the sheer euphoric joy of great pop music were so pure and exciting. I feel rather the same about Endless Boogie, whose music might best be described as, well, endless boogie.


Clearly deeply indebted to that great and persistently underrated American band Canned Heat, one of the great loves of my youth, Endless Boogie take the jaunty boogie beat somewhere deeper and darker. Tracks choogle on for 15 minutes or so with duelling lead guitars and occasional growling, rasping contributions from front man Paul ‘Top Dollar’ Major, whose other speciality is obscenely lascivious slurping noises. The band’s sound is dirty, murky, deep, intense, relentless, with the music sometimes locking into repetitive loops, like the Krautrockers Kraftwerk, and at others heading off into deep psychedelic space reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ and ‘Astronomy Domine’.

Focus Level lasts for 79 minutes and for once I wouldn’t wish the album a second shorter. It sneaks up on you, knocks you over the head, coils itself around your guts and heart, and becomes completely overwhelming. You may well hate the sound of Focus Level, or you may love it as much as I do. The one thing you won’t feel about it, if you play it at the volume the music demands, is neutral.

The band has a great line in titles, with songs including ‘The Manly Vibe’, ‘Gimme the Awesome’ and the mighty opener, ‘Smoking Figs in the Yard’. Why anyone should want to smoke figs, in the back yard, or indeed anywhere else, is a mystery the song never troubles to explain. Top Dollar repeatedly promises that it will give all involved a mighty good time and I found myself wondering whether figs might have narcotic qualities. Certainly at Charterhouse when I was a schoolboy, there was a persistent myth that smoking dried banana skins was almost as good as dope. And taking a couple of aspirin with a can of Coke was also meant to make you high as a kite. Needless to say I tried both — neither worked, though the banana skins made me feel sick.

The other pleasure of Endless Boogie is that the band is so fabulously obscure that your discovery of them makes you feel you have joined the inner sanctum of the rock cognoscenti. Despite achieving a place on Uncut magazine’s 50 best albums of 2008 list, even the massive HMV in Oxford Street doesn’t stock it. Nor does Amazon sell it directly, but you can obtain Focus Level from affiliated American dealers on the site.

Apparently Endless Boogie are four middle-aged music geeks with a combined age of more than 200 years. Three of them worked on the staff of a record company, while the growling Top Dollar doubles up as a trader in rare albums. They are based in Brooklyn, spent four years rehearsing before they ever played a gig and seem to take a distinctly lackadaisical approach to their career. I was particularly tickled that on the MySpace site they have just one friend.

In recent months I have been listening almost exclusively to jazz. This band has rekindled my love of heavy rock, undignified perhaps in a man of 54, but offering a kick like almost nothing else. For those who feel stuck in some endless mid-life crisis, where nothing seems quite as fresh, exciting or as much fun as it used to, Focus Level by Endless Boogie might provide just the jolt of electric shock therapy you require.

Charles Spencer is theatre critic of the Daily Telegraph.


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