Rustic Overtones have never made the same record twice. Long Division is raw and exciting. Rooms by the Hour is polished and chocked with killer horns. Viva Nueva is experimental and aspirational. Light at the End showcases their songwriting in rare and older b-sides. The New Way Out is an orchestral opus. The point is, it’d be easy for the Overtones to keep cranking out horn-driven rock. It’s what made them legends in the Maine music scene and what will always be a staple of their live show. On Let’s Start a Cult, they throw another curve ball and push their boundaries further towards the psychedelic attitude and fuzz of the late sixties.
As a loose concept record Cult can be interpreted in many ways, but in interviews, frontman Dave Gutter has eluded to the metaphor as being in a band. Themes present themselves, but there is no linear storyline to follow. The record is short and straight to the point, with eight tracks clocking in a just around a half hour. Still, Gutter’s lyrics are able to take you on the journey of highs and lows with a clear progression and resolution.
The Overtones have always been masters of lush arrangements and instrumentation. Cult cuts the sweeping strings but keeps flutes (“Let’s Start a Cult”), bass clarinet (“I Like it Low”) and piano on “Victory.” The best moments tend to come when the band locks in over extended jams like on the outros of “Let’s Start a Cult Part 2” and “We’ll Get Right In.” The horns are still here, but are used more as texture than as overt riffs. It’s not until seven tracks in on “Say Yes” that the virtuoso Ryan Zoidis is allowed to cut loose on his saxophone. The brief measures are sweet music and makes you wonder why he isn’t utilized more on the record.
The obvious elephant on the record is the absence of former Rustic drummer Tony MacNaboe. No offense to Gary Gemitti, who is currently behind the kit for the band, but MacNaboe was the backbone to the driving swagger and attack of previous albums and live shows. (Plus his snare tone was amazing). Gemitti serves the songs well, but doesn’t have the same creativity, punch or style and it is a hard adjustment (for a die hard fan like myself).
Being in a band is a hard profession. The album artwork is a little too obvious, and Gutter even sings “I came to a fork in the road/I chose the path of resistance.” There’s no doubt that Rustic Overtones have been through a tumultuous career of label hell, lineup changes and unpredictable futures since they reunited a few years back. They’re still here though, making uncompromising music that is compelling and fresh. Instead of giving up and walking away, they formed a cult and grew stronger.
Rustic Overtones are not content in remaining the same. And that’s OK. All great bands change and evolve, explore and experiment. Let’s Start a Cult may not be a hit with hardcore fans. And that’s OK. The songs are solid and they fit well within the Rustic cannon. All cults have their detractors. If you don’t drink the Kool-Aid, you’ll never know what the trip is like.