To enter the world of Scrimshaw is to enter a world where Dr. Demento rules the radio, Mad magazine is required college reading, and Don Knotts is People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” for the 10th year running. Milwaukee’s premier weirdo art-rock band has been doing its own thang for more than a decade now, releasing album after album of warped lo-fi sketches and full-blown funk-tastic blowouts. Kitchen-sink instrumentation, chipmunk vocals, and surrealistic lyrics are the norm. Singer-guitarist Robert Thomas (he of 50 Cent bottle-smashing fame) and singer-drummer Brock Gourlie are the masterminds behind the cracked project, which counts among its creations songs like “La Squeesh,” “Carrying Sandwiches In The Rain,” and “Dippy Time.” Add in the rubber-band bass of Anton Sieger, and you have one of Milwaukee’s most unique, most enjoyable bands. And hey, you can totally dance to it, too.
If there’s one thing that has kept Scrimshaw from the dizzying heights of superstardom, however, its the band’s decidedly rough sound. That all changes with the new Welcome To The Henry Herschel Commercial, a 17-track opus that is not only Scrimshaw’s best work to date (and its funniest, which is saying a lot), but its best sounding record. Riverwest mad genius Didier Leplae assumes production duties on the bulk of the album, and gives the proceedings a crisp, clean sheen that highlights just how good Scrimshaw really is. Opener “Mukwonago Man” is a herky-jerky spazz-out of the highest order featuring a chorus made up of nothing but nervous grunts; “Don’t Ain’t Booger” plays like a cop-show theme song performed by the Minutemen; “The Town Lazer” plays like kids-show theme song performed by “Weird Al”; and “Day-Day” is the sound of a human being losing his or her mind. Meanwhile, “Bubbleh” samples the Season 4 opening of The Cosby Show, and “I Love A Rainy Night” is a cover of, well, Eddie Rabbitt’s “I Love A Rainy Night.”
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Vying for album highlight is the brilliantly funny/melancholy “Blue Book,” featuring stream-of-consciousness lyrics from the late Ben Cervenka. (“Your father was watching Dateline / That’s why we’re not on time / We always get lost downtown / So that’s where they put the new Walgreens in!”) Then there’s the wrinkle that a handful of songs—“Blue Book,” “Stank Turkey,” the title track—are apparently sung from the perspective of a concerned Jewish grandmother. (Unsurprising, perhaps, when considering the album’s title.)
And oh, there’s plenty more. It all adds up to something weird, something wonderfully weird, and something just plain wonderful. Listen to Welcome To The Henry Herschel Commercial below; if you’re on Scrimshaw’s warped wavelength, you’re in for a treat.
Scrimshaw will celebrate the release of Welcome To The Henry Herschel Commercial, and another album, Scrimsides 2, Friday, November 20 at Cactus Club. Wood Chickens and Ravi/Lola will play in support.