What did you do with your time in lockdown? Extreme hardships redefine who we are. Many musicians seized an opportunity to shed the road-dog life after Covid-19’s lockdowns kicked touring artists off of the road. Mike Dillon’s album trio Shoot The Moon, Suitcase Man and 1918 went even farther and served as a reincarnation experience.
Producer Chad Meise’s album trilogy with Dillon is a weird, glorious musical creation born of the “Punkadelic-Funk-Psych” artist literally trapped off the road he’s toured for three decades. Mentioning Dillon’s work in 900 Foot Jesus, Dead Kenny Gs, and Brave Combo really just touches on the vast body of work available to his musical reimagination.
Shoot the Moon’s ten songs include Robbie Seahag Mangano, Jean Paul Gaster, Nicholas Payton, Matt Chamberlain, Nick Bockrath, and many more. “Camus Sound Asleep” could be a touring musician’s nightmare or a collective delusion set to dark musical narration, perfectly accented with a xylophone. The off-center “Apocalyptic Daydreams” has an inability to land in jazz, electronica, or symphonic work that seems perfectly disrupted; from this unusual beginning, it shifts compositionally into rock and roll genius. “Qool Aid Man” hits perfection in its assessment of America’s bizarre political climate, calling out right-wing homegrown white supremacist Nazis in a headbanger’s punk rock slam. Richly textured, each of the ten songs form a cohesive whole, yet stand alone with its own genius.
Suitcase Man’s expansive soundscape certainly seems an outpouring of Dillon’s disrupted normalcy. The nine-song introspection, recorded on the two-inch analog tape, is an extraordinary–even timeless–example of narrative songwriting. The title track “Suitcase Man” takes a lighthearted attack at the pandemic-caused chaos: disruption, dis-ease, and death have plagued us all. Meise’s production choices (including minimalist mixing) give the work great heart, showing a new side of an artist we thought we knew.
This album reveals a Mike Dillon that even Dillon did not know. The dark, haunting “Empty Bones” vibrates with each recollection of internal battles. Lyrically this song’s genius rests in each identifiable connection we can all make to its story. Angelic backing vocals devilishly wrap around each descent into the clutches of heroin. In contrast, “Show Me Your Hands” soars as one of the best of this record, calling out our social chaos in layered beauty. Connecting to society’s real disconnections, songwriters have an opportunity to redefine shared experiences through new narratives. To me, “Tiny Pink Asses” flawlessly takes the listener through the loss of innocence according to the Suitcase Man, leading us to 1918.
Dillon’s final album title in the trio references the 1918 H1N1 pandemic, since its 2020 counterpart catalyzed this creation. Opener “Pinocchio” announces, with its quick hit of ominous discordance, that the universe has changed. This record’s Mad Hatter party vibe rips through recent residents of the White House, racial conflict, conspiracy theories, and the democratic process. Simply brilliant! If a song could represent a primal scream response to this past year, “A Word to the Virus” is it. Rageful fear and dismay erupt from Dillon’s vocals. Who hasn’t felt this way since this stuff began? Undoubtedly, “Super Spreader” leans into thirty years of music festivals, unleashing and honoring our psilocybin brain in nuanced sonic colors and textures. “1918” marks its territory on this definitive album as a revolutionary track whose sounds merge funk rock and jazz into a new animal. The result of Dillon’s shift from New Orleans to Kansas City compressed into lockdown, it’s my personal favorite leading into the closing time travel that is “Grandfather Clock.”
Mike Dillon’s hit the trifecta with Shoot The Moon, Suitcase Man and 1918, produced by Chad Meise and released through his longtime record label Royal Potato Family. Pure, its birth in lockdown graced us with an inside view of a musical genius’s soul.–Lisa Whealy