The Phantom Tollbooth
Sometimes Not
Artist: Estis P@rc
Label: Dahlhause Productions & Puddlegum Graphixs
Time: 8 songs; 29:46

Axtell, Nebraska is not a place one would normally consider a hotbed of alternative rock and roll.  Maybe a hotbed of boredom where you sit around swatting flies in the shadow of the grain silo. Certainly a most unlikely place for the emergence of one of the hottest new bands to play the Cornerstone 1998 New Band Stage.  Estis P@rcs's indie debut, Sometimes Not, proves that Nebraska is not just a big state with agricultural exports. The band members presumably gave up cow-tipping in their spare time in favor of making music.  Not only are Nebraska's sleeping cows grateful; tomorrow Estis P@rc may be poised to tip over the recording industry!

There is a big movement among fledgling bands these days to find some dusty corner of music that has been untried lately and then clean and polish it up for mass display.  In other words, bands are creatively borrowing from the past to put a positive, contemporary spin on something new for the present. Estis P@rc is yet another example, owing their inspiration to the fertile grounds of lounge music.  The result of their creative efforts is an attractive blend of laid-back lounge act vibes with a decidedly modern rock approach.  They have accomplished this synthesis by layering the lead singer's lush, sweet vocals over waves of spaced-out guitar licks and solid rhythms. They are not the first band to meld a lounge act sound with modern alternative sensibilities, and they probably won't be the last.  Consequently, however, they owe a passing debt of comparison to bands like Starflyer 59, The Pixies, Bon Voyage and Smashing Pumpkins as well as to the Cowboy Junkies principally in the vocal arrangements.  The laid-back "loungy" textures also feel like flashbacks to 50's rock.

Much of their success is owed to Magdelyn Waggoner's vocal talent.  Like Over the Rhine's Karin Berquist before her, Magdelyn sings with a sultry seductiveness that is (dare I say it) sexy in its execution.  Precisely the kind of vocals you'd expect from a lounge singer. If you recall Michelle Pfeiffer in the Fabulous Bakers Boys, you won't be far off.  Of course, the natural result of this is great appeal even among the unchurched, where sex sells everything from sports utility vehicles to soap.  Before you dismiss this band for their seemingly unorthodox approach, however, the only thing they are offering is a look at our world through the eyes of faith. Underneath the flirtatious trappings of their trippy sound lies very serious encouragements to follow God despite adversity and concerns about ministering to the lonely and downtrodden.  A perfect example of their ability to mask messages of faith in an unassuming way is their song, "While You're Away," which on the surface seems just like any love song, but instead reveals a passionate plea for the Lord's return.  Arguably, the whole love-song-to-God-that-sounds-like-just-a-love-song-thing has been overdone, but Estis P@rc gets an A for effort all the same. Like the Danielson Family, their appeal in playing to pubs across this country could result in effectively disarming  their listeners and opening them up to receive messages of God's grace and ultimate love.

Special recognition must also be given to the album's packaging.  Although on the slim side in terms of its offerings, as photos of the band and song lyrics are lacking, the illustrations, art work and layout are all very tastefully done. An organization called Puddlegum Graphics is to thank for that. Additionally, the production on the CD is not first-class, but clear enough and sufficient for the band's present needs.  Better production in the future should prove quite successful in capturing the highs and lows and overall ambience this band is capable of generating.  Their live set at Cornerstone this year, one of the better ones on the New Band Stage, by the way, indicates that their live show has even more energy than the disc's overall mellower sound.  This doesn't hurt the album's appeal in any way, but merely shows their versatility for future recordings.

Six of the songs are credited, but if you stick around on the sixth track you'll be treated to two additional songs: "P.S." and "Your Way."  At $8 that is $1 per song, which, given this band's creativity, is a good deal.  Write to them at P.O. Box 344, Axtell, Nebraska 68924 to get your own copy, and don't forget to ask about the cows.

By Steven Stuart Baldwin

For a demo