With their newest release, Nyack New York’s ShwizZ put together an album that is unapologetically progressive, funky, and fun. This duo, consisting of Ryan Liatis on guitar/keys/vocals and Andy Boxer on drums and vocals, did a great job of layering a variety of instruments and styles to create an excellent fusion that is reminiscent of bands such as TAUK, Spafford, and Consider the Source. While ShwizZ is just one of a variety of bands to come out of the New York area packing this type of progressive heat, they are far from being a copy of anyone else. Big Things shows without a doubt that they have more than enough style and talent to separate themselves.
Opening track “Splinter” kicks things off with a super funky drum and bass line that leads into a guitar and keys jam that takes you on a nice ride. I like it when an opening track both sets the tone for an album and impresses me as a stand alone song, and “Splinter” immediately gives the listener a taste of what this band is capable of. Some nice tempo changes to mix things up, an ability to move back to a really solid core of the song, and lots of awesome little changes thrown in by Boxer on the drums make for a great opener. “Khoi Khoi” is a relies on a similar dynamic, just with a bouncy keyboard riff supplying the back beat rather than the bass. Boxer is again impressive in his ability to constantly make minor adjustments to his drum riff so he’s never really playing the same thing over and over again. Playing the same beat in slightly different ways is a mark of a really good drummer in my opinion, and Boxer has that down. The song ends rather abruptly before transitioning into “Your Call Is Very Important To Us.” The band shows their sense of humor by setting the track up as the coolest “on hold” music you’re likely to hear while waiting for your cell phone help desk to answer. This one is lighter and almost poppy, but serves as a nice break. The classical guitar riff, with the build and the layering of different sounds, is extremely well put together and executed perfectly.
The second half of the album is extremely collaborative, with the band bringing in guests for almost every song. Consider the Source bassist John Ferrara steps in for “Changing Gears.” While the band didn’t necessarily need a separate bassist since Liatis is able to fill that role more than adequately, the addition of Ferrara takes this song into some really awesome places. Right from the intro there’s more power and more of a “thump” from the bass. Ferrara doesn’t overstep here, as the soaring guitar line still takes center stage, but the addition makes for a dynamic collaboration. The driving guitar and bassline in the second half of the song are some of the heaviest moments of the album, and it makes for a real highlight. Luke Bemand from Lespecial takes over bass for “Changing Gears.” This one lacks some of the power of the previous track but Bemand shows his smooth playing ability, and once again Boxer’s drumming adds tons of interest behind a pretty chill effort on guitar. Tim Palmieri and Chris DeAngelis from Kung Fu jump on “The Shwizzard” on guitar and bass, respectively. It can be hard to add a second guitar to a one-guitar band, but this is a nice combo, with Palmieri and Liatis doubling each other and trading licks effortlessly. This makes for some of the best work on the album, really reminding me of how a band like Umphrey’s McGee is able to take two extremely talented players together and let them play off of each other. It also leaves some room for Liatis to step over to keys while Palmieri holds down the guitar, especially leading into the epic buildup in the final third of the song.
“Weather or Not” drops the guests and relies just on the duo. You might now know it by listening, however, as the classical guitar, piano, and synth are all layered on top of one another. It makes for a dense song but each individual part stands out enough on its own to where it doesn’t sound jumbled. This one switches between the quieter opening riff into a really solid rock jam early on. Nothing extremely technical but something that definitely shows range. This is the longest song on the album, and it does go through a few different movements, but it never strays too far from the main thread of the song and, again, the band always finds a way to bring it back successfully. The final track shows some humor from the duo. “Big Things” brings in David Krumholtz, Ed Mann (from Frank Zappa’s band), Dan Rappaport, and Natasha Dimarco to provide a variety of vocals, voice overs, and percussion work. The song tells the story of a Old Man Hollis from Tennessee with “intellectual superiority” who was destined for greatness before falling in with a band of bongo-playing ruffians in a drum circle. After banging his head in a Winnebago, Hollis is never same again, and he asks the question of why big things keep falling on him, from a keyboard to a deer Behind the rather ridiculous and silly lyrics is a really fun jam with a stop-start feel that makes for a cool tune, and it includes the biggest, most bad-ass guitar solo of the album.
Overall this album ends up being highlight after highlight, with no real letdowns or dead space. None of the songs drag on longer than they should, and only 2 of the 8 tracks top 7 minutes. I think the album works best as a whole, letting the different dynamics play out over the course of the full 50 minutes rather than in each song independently. If you enjoy some of the other recent jam/prog fusion bands to come out over the past 5 or so years this is an album you should check out.