I can honestly say I’ve never heard a song quite like “Ambitigeddon”. I’m no babe in the woods, I’ve heard more than my fair share of music from a wide cross-section of styles and genres, but little matches the originality of this tune. It’s all the more remarkable that I grasped its subject matter from the beginning. The cleverness in Brian Shapiro’s second album It’s Amazing is rarely cheap and almost always artfully frames a larger theme or point.
It didn’t take long to adapt to the song’s slinky and initially unpredictable rhythm. Even then, however, Shapiro can’t resist shifting gears. It doesn’t disorient listeners. It dovetails well into the overall idea of ambition so all-encompassing that it warps everything in its path. “Am Now” puts a spotlight on the band’s unpredictability. Anyone expecting an exclusively alternative or art-rock direction imposed on the collection following the challenging duo opening the album may be surprised by the third track.
It’s a quasi-folk track, in some ways, with its jangling acoustic guitars. It takes something closer to Velvet Underground-like slant after electric guitar enters the cut, but the jangling feel remains throughout. Shapiro plays this vocal “straighter” than other It’s Amazing tracks, for the most part, perhaps reflecting the seemingly autobiographical nature of its lyrics. The gentle twilight guitar strumming away with Shapiro’s vocal during “Go To” has a kind of downcast feel. I hear a deep sadness lurking in this tune, much more so than anger, and believe both the song’s tempo and vocal support the idea.
Shapiro drafted several guest musicians to make contributions to the album and the best, for me, comes with Alex Posmontier’s piano playing during “More Memories”. It’s an exceptional counterpoint to the album’s finest set of lyrics and an outstanding vocal. “More Memories”, as well, falls into the category of the album opener as something new, a song I can legitimately say I’ve never heard before.
The album hits a mixed patch for me with the songs “LALA” and “New Newz”. These songs aren’t duds, really, but their creative and vigorous musical attack, respectively, lack lyrics measuring up to the same high quality present in the album’s best moments. I think they maybe suffer for me in light of the aforementioned “More Memories”. The vibraphone touches from Ben Gallice have made a difference earlier in the album, but his presence during the song “Savor” helps create a warmer musical landscape for listeners to explore. Understated melodic flourishes such as this show, once again, that a little goes a long way.
I get the feeling, as fine as this album is, that Shapiro and his band are barely touching on the full extent of their capabilities. It’s Amazing is a bold album title but it’s more a reflection of Shapiro’s personal point of view that, in the face of whatever indignities and agonies life may throw his way, retains a sense of life’s possibilities. These songs, all in their own way, communicate that message and entertains us along the way.