Quactus - Once A Pond, A Spine

Quactus makes no quacking bones about it - they draw inspiration from the biggest jam bands of our generation and beyond.
If you're looking for a disc that emulates the touchstones of the genre, like harmonically intertwined guitars, open-ended jam segments, and sudden shifts in mood and tempo, then you could find a keeper in their debut, Once A Pond, A Spine. Quactus dives headfirst into all of these influences and more, embracing the nuances of the form by dotting their setlists with covers from expected (Phish, Zeppelin, Dead) and unexpected (Bell Biv Devoe, Ray Parker Jr.) sources, and religiously keeping setlists updated on their website.

The album highlights their original tunes, which run the gamut of tried-and-true psychedelic vehicles, like the simply endearing funk-rock crunch of "Fever Boy." "Van Winkle's Dream" incorporates further prog-rock and fusion influences into a triumphant instrumental excursion that bounces between sections heavy with notes and others with a gliding improvisational feel. The gently swirling "Them" soothes the ravaged mind with circular vocals and a genuinely pleasant groove. The album has a flow that is apprent, as "Umbrella" strides out of the mist with vocals and understated music that remind me of Keller Williams' recent band projects - eloquently simple rock rhythms and subtly trippy melodies.

The energy rises on the countryfied live staple "Poinephobe," which combines dancy funk breakdowns with rip-roarin' verses and typically plain-spoken vocals. "Mine All Mine" is the disc's most rocking track, exhibiting a distorted, strutting classic-rock vibe with a fierce guitar solo within a succinct time frame. "Fantazor's Escape" stands in stark contrast, with flighty, hippy-dippy guitar melodies scattering over a propulsive rhythm that drops suddenly into a piano-driven section with mythical subject matter. It's 4 or 5 song ideas in one, featuring sections that could stand on their own. A song like "It Isn't True" makes one wonder why they don't keep writing such well-constructed, pop-leaning tunes that stand on their own.

Once A Pond, A Spine could use a few less minutes of running time, more forceful vocals and a larger helping of the band's concise song ideas - even an overtly fun, simple one-word blues jam like "Alligator" works better than the overwrought complexity of "Fantazor's Escape" -  but that's not to say that their lengthy creations like "Might Be You," "The Journey," and "Van Winkle's Dream" are without merit, and some are very good indeed. Quactus certainly doesn't lack song ideas or the ability to flat-out jam, and I think their fame will grow as they learn to be a bit pickier about what makes it into their repertoire.

--Bryan Rodgers