X-Legged Sally: Peter Vermeersch, Paul Belgrado, Pierre Vervloesem, Danny Van Hoeck, Peter Vandenberghe, Bart Maris, Michel Mast.
The Land of the Giant Dwarfs comprises 18 often very brief tracks, some of which hark back to the inspired mania and occasional subtle charm of X-Legged Sally's previous three albums. There are insistent grooves ("Skip XXI"), waltz and tango-flavored rhythms ("Yesbody 2" and "Yesbody 1"), inventive instrumental combinations (Pierre Vervloesem's heavy metal guitar and Bart Maris' muted trumpet on "FES II"), atmospheric instrumental blues ("Poor Man's Rain," with some great clarinet from Peter Vermeersch), and even touches of swinging avant jazz and funk ("Starfinger," a showcase for keyboardist Peter Vandenberghe). There are two particularly strong tracks at the CD's close: "Quorns" is moody and ominous, with its tragic tale of doomed lovers (spoken in voice-over by Vermeersch) and stuttering, unsettling unison lines from keyboard and clarinet, and the evocative "Yesbody 1," which builds dramatically to become nearly thrilling before its subtle finish. But elsewhere, Giant Dwarfs -- the band's first full-length CD released on a U.S. label (Knitting Factory Works) -- feels either dumbed down or naughtied up for the American audience, as if bandleader Vermeersch decided that the best way to gain popularity in the U.S. would be to push the influence of Frank Zappa more to the forefront, and focus on Zappa's most calculatedly "outrageous" vocal- and song-based work. How else to explain the vocal samples on "Skip XXI" that fixate on genitalia and masturbation? And doesn't the shopworn sentiment about not judging a man by the length of his hair (in the cleverly titled "Hair") arrive at least 25 years late -- or is there hopefully some sense of irony here? The overdubbed and heavily treated vocals of newcomer Thierry Mondelaers suggest a strategy to expand the band's rock-based audience. At times Mondelaers effectively takes the avant out of X-Legged Sally's avant-prog, turning the ensemble into -- horrors! -- a mere progressive rock band. But of course Vermeersch remains in charge, and his talents as composer, arranger, and clarinetist are fully in evidence even on this most wildly uneven of X-Legged Sally albums. Fully 36 of The Land of the Giant Dwarfs' 59 minutes are phenomenal and as strong as anything XLS ever recorded. And although picking and choosing among the tracks is a necessity, there is plenty of fine XLS playlist material here, making the album a worthwhile addition to any dedicated fan's library. ~ Dave Lynch