Street Sounds: Thunderclap!: Hellbent on Success is weirdly wonderful

Ontario-based singer/songwriter, Thunderclap is a voice in the wilderness. He’s on the fringe and sings loud and clear about it.

Ontario-based singer/songwriter, Thunderclap is a voice in the wilderness. He’s on the fringe and sings loud and clear about it.

Thunderclap has the spirit of a vaudevillian and his album, Hellbent on Success, has an unbridled comedic strain of expression that runs through it.

Hellbent on Success wallows in weirdness and celebrates its lack of conventional signposts.

Thunderclap’s voice is strong with a pronounced operatic quality that hints at over-the-top mannerisms but rarely goes there. It’s a put-on, theatrical voice that can be part carnival barker, saloon singer or down-at-the-heels tenor.

Thunderclap’s songs perversely beg for a label, so let’s call it eccentro-rock. Some similarities are heard in past songs by Richard Harris (MacArthur Park) or Herman’s Hermits (Henry the Eighth) or strange songs like Needles and Pins.  Thunderclap’s music is similar in effect to Captain Beefheart or Frank Zappa where it’s unclear what is novelty or craziness or parody.

A kindred contemporary is fellow Canuck, Hawksley Workman. Both singers share the same carefree individuality and are unclassifiable. Also, having left-field singers like Mary Margaret O’Hara on board doesn’t clear the situation. Her contribution to The Hitmaker is spoken word silliness.  Like all of the album, it’s assumed that the tongue is in the cheek.

The songs and production (by Spooky Ruben of Feist and Keisha fame) have elements of Rocky Horror Picture Show drama and kitsch. It’s like listening to music from some 1950s’ carnival funhouse. There is lots of abstraction or distraction. The talent and charm of Thunderclap’s voice is clear and if some of the instrumentation was pared down, the songs would translate stronger.

Hellbent on Success is a celebration of eccentricity and freeform expression and Thunderclap is a singular talent who is wonderfully warped.

Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest music releases for The Morning Star.