As a general rule, spazzy punk trios are preferable to indie-folk troubadours. But spazzy punk-folk troubadours are best of all, and that’s what the former thrash-and-yelp smartasses of Sleeping In The Aviary mutated into on their second album, Expensive Vomit In A Cheap Hotel. Elliott Kozel’s voice was too ungainly to go the prissy pastoral route, bassist Phil Mahlstadt and drummer Michael Sienkowski were too habitually uptempo to wax fussily intricate, and newcomer Celeste Heule’s accordion and musical saw accompaniment registered as weird, not trad. Expensive Vomit was like the great Bright Eyes album Conor Oberst was too pretty and Dylan-besotted to make, with that same sense of the cooler people in a Midwestern town gathering to make expressive noise, and its premature appreciation of mortality never undercut its raucousness.
Last year, SITA relocated from Madison to Minneapolis, added new guitarist Kyle Sobczak, and got goofy. Really goofy—Kozel finished a recent set at the 7th St. Entry fully pantsless (nope, no undies either). And the band’s third album, Great Vacation!, has a similar commando feel. “Y.M.C.A. (No Not That One)” substitutes choral gargling for a solo, while elsewhere Kozel’s voice has grown less declamatory and more whimsical. When he sings about “floating in space and sipping on juice made from a powder” to the strum of ukulele, there’s an air of self-amused slackerdom that invites you in to pass out on its couch.
Death still peeks around the corner, but its current aims are absurd. Take “Maria’s Ghost”—maybe you could write a serious song about a BDSM foray ending in death, but not with a quirky accordion and Dixieland horn solo. The story behind “You Can Stay But There Won’t Be Pancakes” is explained by its alternate title, “Last Kiss On A Sinking Ship.” And on “The Very Next Day I Died,” a skinned knee, a first love, a good job, a happy marriage, a country home, spoiled kids, divorce, and being buried alive each kill Kozel within a day—and then he has to wait in line to get into heaven.