No band wants to be tagged with the dubious "best kept secret in America" label, but the Honeydogs merit the distinction for all the right reasons. In other words, the crack Minneapolis quintet's low profile is the music world's loss.
In terms of sheer versatility and adventurous spirit, few songwriters on the contemporary landscape can hang with 'Dogs frontman Adam Levy, a guy whose ever-expanding wheelhouse ranges from gut-bucket rock 'n' roll and power pop through a stunning span of sophisticated songcraft. From folk and jazz to bossa nova, cabaret and beyond, Levy seems incapable of writing a throwaway melody, and his sly, insightful commentary on the absurdities of modern life renders the rich musical stew all the more nutritious.
Following on the winged heels of the group's most ambitious project to date, 2003's 10,000 Years, a brilliant socio-political song cycle that reinvigorated the bloated notion of "rock opera," Amygdala aims lower on the conceptual scale but delivers sparkling melodic gems and high-wire wordplay by the wagon load. (The album's title, by the way, references neuron clusters in the brain that regulate emotions, specifically fear.)
Throughout, Levy's ongoing evolution as a tunesmith continues to flower in every which direction, and his compatriots consistently create churning, swirling atmospheres that render the exotic familiar and vice versa. "Truth Serum" and "Tar Baby Napalm" sketch a spacey lounge vibe, while "Ms. Ketchup and the Arsonist" packs spooky, swing-cat strut to spare. "The Firing Squad Reloads" ignites with a taut, "Mrs. Robinson"-like acoustic guitar pulse and adds echoes of fiddle-fired raga and free-form sax along the way. "Elan Vital" closes the set with a sidewalk-cafe, sing-a-long flourish. I could go on.
And lest anyone reckon otherwise, rest assured that the 'Dogs are still very much in touch with their original incarnation as a straight-ahead, smart-ass-but-cerebral guitar band, exposing their roots right from jump street with the emotional folk-rock tug of "Too Close to the Sun." Emphatic punctuation comes later with the propulsive metallic crunch of "Rattling My Tin Cup," the careening, balls-to-the-wall assault of "Devil's Advocate," and the high-protein heartland wallop of "Cut to the Chase."
Amygdala is the kind of record that simultaneously satisfies and leaves a listener hungry for an intrepid band's next exploration of the uncharted. It's a drag that more people in stunted American Idol-land won't be paying attention.