The Van Allen Belt
Meal Ticket to Purgatory
Opening with the jaw-dropping vocal chorale, "Dr. Layman's Terms," you know you're in for it with The Van Allen Belt's 20-track monster, Meal Ticket to Purgatory. Apparently, that meal ticket is redeemable for a feast of bite-sized psych-pop nuggets, all fanciful appetizers with nary an entrée in sight. And forget filling up on bread.
The album's main sonic ingredients are the dual, multi-tracked vocals of Tamar Kamin and Martine Mancini, simmered with Ben Ferris' guitar and keys and Scott Taylor's rattletrap drums into a reverberating soup, a low-fi version of Phil Spector's "wall of sound." Songs range from Motown girl-group pop to gauzy, synth-laden ballads, from playful to soulful, from nostalgic to sharp-tongued.
Beneath the music's outer-space candy coating, there's a barbed lyrical sensibility emerging on songs like "Alaska Dreamin.'" Here, the narrator offers a sketch of Pittsburgh from the point of view of a pizza deliveryperson: "I'm light years away from wealth / And misery loves companies that don't insure your health / Got me a job with my Chevrolet / Now I drive all night and sleep all day / Shitty like the road design on 'Sliberty / But I'm broke as the Pittsburgh City Treasury."
In all, The Van Allen Belt is a pleasant, freak-out surprise on the local scene, and Meal Ticket to Purgatory assembles many, many tasty moments. My only criticism is there's just too much here; sometimes having fewer choices on the menu is more satisfying