More Than Pocket Change

10,000 Things (ear X-tacy Records)
The Pennies

By Tim Roberts

The end of the 1990s in Louisville music: it was buzzed with some kind of vibe that was exciting and confusing, as if a wooly blanket had been thrown over the scene, one that had two eye holes cut into it that provided vision in only one direction and all we could do was walk one way and flail around trying to make sure we weren't going to smash into anything. It all followed after Playboy named Louisville as one of the Music Meccas of the World in its annual music poll.

Among all the self-congratulation folded in with self-doubt, a number of Louisville bands were getting some attention from critics and audiences outside the city. The Pennies were one of them. And after their acclaimed 1999 debut recording Come, We Go, they gradually disappeared as a functioning band - much like the city's designation as Music Mecca. The wool blanket got worn thin real fast. And when it finally fell off, we didn't notice.

Now nearly a decade after those woolen days, after their members had dispersed around the country to pursue other dreams and work, The Pennies (Jeremy Podgursky, Kevin Coultas, Gary Claude and Dave Kuhbander) have reunited for their second release 10,000 things. It has been seven years (coincidentally, the same amount of time between Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall) since Come, We Go. Was the wait worth it?

In short, yes, if you enjoy challenging songs that straddle the disparate realms of progressive rock, avant-garde jazz and snappy new wave, of psychedelia and morose, moody ambience. It is a cohesive experiment in expression that while it may not rock the house, it does add another room.

Things opens with "Moontides and Lullabies," a lush, soft selection burnished with a wailing guitar and synthesizer simulating ocean tides whispering on a beach. Then they switch gears with the syncopated driving rock of "Where Crows Attack." Halfway through, things get mysterious with "Killed You Twice," with its reverbed guitar and eerie string arrangement and lyrics that include the gem "The ties serrate your pale skin / this umbilical romance for which you thrive." Not a song you want to listen to in a darkened house after you've read some H.P. Lovecraft.

Things brighten later with "Little Shadow," and the entire work finishes with a dramatic flair with "The Rebirth of the Fool" (a subtle reworking of Miles Davis's be-bop premiere Birth of the Cool), incorporating strings and what sounds like a sea of choral voices, that, following a few moments of silence, gets blasted open by a mosh-pit finale of hammering lead guitar and bass.

The promotional one-sheet for 10,000 things states that the songs are cinematic. Indeed, there is a broad sweep to the sounds the band has made on this recording. This is music done as Cinerama, in 70mm with Dolby sound. And it is like some of those old cinematic epics of nearly half a century ago: It requires patience and takes time to lose yourself in the story and digest the experience once it is finished.

If you're open and ready and have time to get lost in some challenging music, then there are 10,000 things waiting for you.

See more than 10,000 things at www.thepennies.com.