New York’s casual and eccentric Uncle Wiggly gets its strength from the full creative participation of all three members; each holds up his corner of the triangle. It’s pretty easy to figure out who writes what. William Berger contributes krautish guitar-focused instrumentals and short pop songs. James Kavoussi creates fuzzy, crabbed meanderings in strange tunings. Mike Anzalone does the retro-pop sing-songs. (Kavoussi, who is the drummer of record in Uncle Wiggly, also works on his own as pHoaming Edison and is a singer/guitarist in Fly Ashtray, which originally included Anzalone as well. Berger was formerly in Smack Dab.)
He Went There So Why Don’t We Go finds the stylistic troika firmly in place. While it initially sounds like an attempt to recreate Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles (“Tongue and Teeth” includes a distant trumpet; most songs display an innocent surrealism), the sweet lilting and lurching melodies turn to earthier, more repetitive psychedelia. Besides a number of short, indistinct instrumentals, the album ranges from “The King’s Loyal Moustache Clippings,” a Kavoussi carbuncle of a song, to the stop-and-go prettiness of the unlisted “With My” and “Oatmeal Goddess,” which works in both the guitar riff from “Help Me, Rhonda” and some wheezing harmonica.
Across the Room and Into Your Lap, Wiggly’s cutest record, is largely characterized by Shimmy-lord Kramer’s production, which pours on the reverb, especially on the vocals: “Ba Ba Ba” and “My, My, My, How Are You?” sound like Galaxie 500 outtakes. While dispensing with any nostalgic sounds, the album does include more than one song about ice cream. Again, the majority of the songs are catchy jam instrumentals with similar structures. Uncle Wiggly keeps working over basic patterns, coming up with different combinations, weaving a stiff, shiny and still-intricate chunky blanket.
The sprawling There Was an Elk turns more psychedelic in a rougher way. It’s as if the trio wrote edgier songs and then took the edges off, leaving a flatter but still forceful sound. The vocals are nearly invisible, sketched in lightly, rather than articulated. There are golden moments in the constant matrix of Wigglyness — the gem “Small Factory” (sung by Sari from the Gamma Rays), the mechanics-repair shop musique concréte of “Elephant Fly.” There’s also such untuned mush as “Peeking Over the Fence.”
Consisting mainly of demos and live tracks, Wiggly’s rarities cassette contains things that seem un-Wiggly but actually fit the group’s idiosyncratic logic — a “country disco” melody, a Red Crayola cover. Somehow these end up sounding not out of the ordinary at all, and especially not out of the Uncle Wiggly aesthetic. In addition, the album includes several lovely songs not available anywhere else, and “Having a Swell Time” and “Greek Chorus II” are worth the price alone.
Joining the mass exodus from Shimmy-Disc, Uncle Wiggly made the very different Non-Stuff for a British label. The eight long songs are deeper (more tom-tom, less snare), sluggish and trippy. From the sounds of things, besides listening to more Amon Düül II, they’ve also been starting up a lot more lawnmowers and household appliances.
Jump Back, Baby has a bigger college-rock sound than anything else the band has done. The production is smoother and cleaner; there’s less of the meandering and noodling found on other releases. The falsetto vocals kick in more often, and the vocals are more to the fore anyway, especially on “Yr Hed” and “Imbeciles.” The usual assortment of quirks is still present: backward, smushing sounds, silly psychedelic lyrics and lots of little intricate noises behind the big pop themes. (Despite an art/info fuck-up, Kavoussi has not left the band.)