Minnesota quintet, The April Fools, dive deep into the musical rabbit hole on their fourth album, Wonderland. Combining 90’s indie Rock, 60’s psychedelic rock, outlaw country and a sprinkling of jazz, The April Fools create a mind-bending soundscape that defies easy classification.
“Loretta Lane” opens the album with a surprising U2 meets Doc Watson fusion. Rock and roll drums and bass set the rhythm as ethereal electric guitar notes dance above the beat. Against this postmodern musical background, singer Brian Drake’s voice comes in worn and rustic as a weathered country barn. The jarring juxtaposition enhances the mysterious tale of a runaway bride. Singing, “Can you forget Loretta Lane, how you wanted just to love her even though she stole your thunder, and your devotion was in vain?” Drake ponders the power this enigmatic woman holds over her jilted lover. Jangly, Roger McGuinn guitar work and “Nowhere Man” backing vocals add a psychedelic layer to an already hazy musical dreamscape. Like Alice entering Wonderland, you find yourself muttering “Curiouser and Curiouser,” as you feel compelled to keep exploring this strange, new musical terrain.
Immediately changing direction, the band goes high octane Cow Punk on, “She Got Me (When She Got Her Dress On.)” From there, the band turns sideways, to capture early solo era George Harrison on “Isolation Blues.” Then, it’s a much more subtle shift to the Tom Petty sounds of “The Last Mohican.” Capturing the intrigue of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” the band tells the story of a robbery gone wrong. Just when you’re starting to get your musical bearings, The April Fools add New Orleans horns and jazzy rhythms to “Crazy Boy.” Switching vocalists to Terri Owens, her sultry voice adds another element to the band’s shifting soundscape. Singing, “In the witching hour, he floats across the floor…” Owens and the band continue to keep us guessing both lyrically and musically.
At this point in the album, “Lose Your Mind,” makes complete sense. A rollicking, rocking outlaw country tune, the song asserts, “You don’t know what you’re missing. You don’t know what you’ve got. Finding pieces of the puzzle; you think everything is lost.” With ringing Telecaster and joyful harmonica, the band makes losing your mind seem like an alluring idea. But according to the Paisley Revival tones of “That’s What Makes a Fool,” it’s not losing your mind that makes us a fool, it’s losing our heart. “No Vacation,” revels in blistering, 90’s Alt Rock guitar licks as the band revisits a failed relationship. But of course, that is immediately followed by the tender love song, “The Fire In Your Eyes.” “Another Go Around” finishes off the set with an atmospheric pondering of life’s cycles. Singing, “Maybe I’ll find it again in a box in a corner of a dream somewhere. Maybe I’ll just close my eyes and disappear in the sky forever,” Drake contemplates what is real and what is worth holding on to.
With a kaleidoscopic musical backdrop that includes mandolin, concertina, and rhythm stick (among other instruments,) The April Fools find the perfect ending to this musical mystery tour. Filled with surprising and delightful musical turns and detours, Wonderland is sure to put a big Cheshire Cat grin on your face.