Starting out at college in Connecticut but more recently based in New York and New Jersey, Will Georgantas has, for more than a decade, been prolific bedroom music auteur Thunderegg. After releasing a small shelf of cassettes in micro-quantities (we’re talking single or double digits), he put nearly the whole megillah — 213 songs — on one seven-hour CD of MP3s, Open Book: The Collected Thunderegg, 1995-2004, packaged with a handsome annotated lyric book. (The disc is playable only on a computer drive, not a component or portable CD player.)
For the most part, the songs on Universal Nut are solo voice and acoustic guitar, both of them serviceably pleasant but not striking. While the songs are likewise melodically more functional than memorable, Georgantas’ lyrics are what stand out, scanning like well-written (and forthrightly honest) letters without benefit of choruses or typical verse structure. “Today is your birthday / I bought you an envelope / It sits open on my bedroom floor / I wanted to fill it with a message of hope / But I don’t have any hope anymore.” Amid the romantic unease and despair, the dormitory ballad “I Wish I Had a Stove” offers a humorous respite.
The more electric New England Music ups the ante with such “studio” effects as multi-tracking, distortion pedals and incidental noisemakers other than guitar and voice. What’s more, the lyrics find all sorts of surprising things to appreciate and attack. “Edgar Martinez” castigates the Seattle Mariner infielder for hitting so well against the Yankees. The words “Rack & Pinion” drive the song of that title, while the resentful and tuneless “I Was an Intern at Spin” gripes “I was the lowest form of life there is,” and the noisy science fiction of “Vorion Promises a Spectacle of Power” is just flat out hard to explain.
By Personnel Envelo-file, Thunderegg is starting to sound a bit like a band, with regular multi-tracking, droney keyboards, vocal processing, minimal drum machine percussion and electric guitars that he does more than just strum. The lyrics are likewise less direct, bordering equally on silliness (“I wanna know how the mail works / I wanna hang out with the mail clerks”), profundity (“Wish I was a windmill, pull energy straight from the sky”) and random fantasy (Brian Wilson’s death in “Wilson Calls It Quits”). Quantity still trumps intrinsic quality in Thunderegg’s world, but the flashes of ingenuity and the sheer volume of material makes this blog-like musical outpouring something to behold.
Although hindered by distortion in the recording, the Thunderegg tape achieves a complete new level of musical sophistication, rarely suggesting that it’s the work of a single person. Georgantas has settled into a band format, with bass and drums throughout, and wisely dispenses with the experimentation of Personnel Envelo-file in favor of subtle, detailed arrangements and more enduring melodies (the wistful love song “Christina Stopped Playing Her Violin”). The result is the most consistent and convincing Thunderegg release to date. If only the fidelity were equal to the artistry.
Powder to the People and In Yanistin are different from their predecessors, consisting predominately of brief (a minute, give or take) instrumentals that are gentle and pretty, though well-propelled. (Powder‘s “Theme for Meat Preparation” is one noisily aggressive exception; In Yanistin‘s darkly atmospheric organ extravaganza “Thunder in the Snow” is another.) Lovely stuff, although the effect, in toto, is a bit aimless, more melodic sketches in various cultural idioms than finished songs. The vocal tracks are very neat, however: the hard-rocking “Masterpieces Linger Daily” and “She’s Been There All the Time,” which appear consecutively on In Yanistin.
The Envelope Pushes Back (a witty notion that the song of that title, disappointingly, does nothing with) returns to the full-length song format with excellent results. If the previous two projects were a time-out for Georgantas to recharge his odd lyrical batteries, it worked. Highlights: “In the Loft,” “The Second Coffer” and “Ceiling Fan.”
Typical of Georgantas’ torrent of music, the 12 songs on Sweetest One, which were recorded between 2000 and 2004 and lack drums (“This may happen yet”), are otherwise unissued. After all that, Open Book concludes with a needless album’s worth of brief (and mostly trivial) bonus rubbish (an unaccompanied and annotated vocal, phone messages, conversations, radio chit-chat, etc.). The choral “Love One Another With a Pure Heart, Fervently” is very pretty, and one rarely hears the word “panegyric” (in “Blazin’ in Princeton”), but this is one disc’s worth too many.