Penza Penza :: Electricolorized

The simultaneous availability of the entire history of recorded music has made grave robbers of all of us. The past is right there, and there’s just so much of it. And perhaps a little plunder now and then is how we honor the dead. But Misha Panfilov is a true resurrection man. The Estonian composer and multi-instrumentalist pulls decayed musical forms from the ground in parts, stitches them together and pumps them full of a thousand volts of raw electricity. When he’s done with them, they don’t just stand up and speak; they get up and dance. Electricolorization, indeed. Moreover, he plies his craft in the less visited gravesites of the musical past: greasy soul instrumentals, cycle-delic fuzz rock, the global fantasias of exotica and all manner of space-age bachelor pad music. Every few years an artist has to come along and unthink The Beatles for a moment, just so we can all remember how fucking weird the pop music landscape of the early 1960s really was.

Panfilov’s crack garage-funk outfit Penza Penza is the ideal laboratory for all of this mad science. It is by no means clear who, besides Panfilov, is in Penza Penza or how many of them there are. (Information is scant. The first album Beware of Penza Penza shows six people on the cover. The 2022 follow-up Neanderthal Rock shows more than a dozen. On Electricolorized, it looks like two dozen. A concert review from a hometown show in Tallinn, Estonia last year pegged the number at 15. Your guess is as good as mine.) Regardless, Penza Penza is clearly having more fun than anyone else around these days. Splitting the difference between fuzzed-out, organ-pumping Nuggets-style goon rock and the low-down Stax/Volt instrumental soul workouts of the Booker T. and the MGs and the Bar-Kays, Penza Penza sounds like they are forever gigging at a fraternity party somewhere in the upper Midwest circa 1966. And like the garage bands of those days, Penza are always poised just on the cusp of psychedelia: wah-wahs and distortion and mad conga fills, and more than a few ripping solos, but they seem more interested in moving asses than expanding minds.

Electricolorized is a decidedly slinkier affair than its stomping predecessor, Neanderthal Rock. Panfilov still scribbles with his sub-basement guitar fuzz, but elements of easy listening, 60s French chanson, Joe Meek sound effects and tasteful David Axelrod-style jazz-funk are slipping into the mix. Still, Penza’s ultra-tight rhythm section never ceases to bounce. The shimmying opener “Deep Dive” pairs Panfilov’s growling guitar with languid saxophone over a swirling lounge vamp.  And the colossal “Color My Coffee,” with its blaxploitation scratch and delirious Farfisa organ, sounds like car chase music from a Piero Umiliani soundtrack. There’s even an upscale bossa groove on “Der Himmel Über Kakum​ä​e.” Things don’t get too far out until the primitive acid rock of the closing title track, but even that sounds more like B-movie sci-fi than genuine psychedelia.

Panfilov and the Penza crew are just too practiced and talented to ever really recreate the boneheaded amateurism of primal garage rock. But they traffic in a similar kind of infectious unseriousness. “Why do we care about anything?” they chanted on their first album. As so much of rock music has grown positively morbid in its self-consciousness and introspection, it’s a thrill to hear an outfit content to just make the building shake. | b sirota

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