Sensory Overload: Human Cannonball

By Columbus Alive
From the September 9, 2012 edition

In Athens folk-rock band Southeast Engine, Jesse Remnant plays bass and sings harmonies on his older brother Adam’s songs. But when Jesse relocated from Athens to Columbus earlier this year, he brought with him Human Cannonball, a band of Dayton and Columbus musicians that performs the younger Remnant’s music.

Good thing he did that. As evidenced by Saturday’s set at Kobo, Human Cannonball is great. The band’s presence on Columbus stages is a blessing for fans of finely crafted pop-rock that doesn’t wilt under the weight of its facade.

But there is a façade to it, and oh, it’s a beautiful one. The arrangements were impeccable Saturday — Hammond trills, theremin, glockenspiel, all deployed expertly in a way that served the songs.

Ah yes, the songs. They were always sturdy, never lacking in forward motion. Whether they dabbled in loud, jangly stuff or mellow balladry, everything felt like it had a pulse.

That’s especially impressive given how many songwriters lean on “classic” genres as a crutch for lack of a fresh point of view. Remnant’s writing is steeped in pop history with a tinge of Americana — think ’90s Wilco as performed by Of Montreal — but for all their cribbing from well-worn traditions, Human Cannonball never sounded like a band going through the motions.

As anyone who’s seen Southeast Engine lately can tell you, Remnant knows how to wail away on vocal harmonies well into the high registers. That served him and his cohorts well Saturday. The guitar parts were lovely too, often locking into harmonies that nicely complemented what was going on with the vocals.

Lyrically, it was hard to parse much of what Remnant was saying, though it’s possible lyrics are this band’s Achilles heel. One song features the phrase “human cannonball” in the lyrics, which isn’t necessarily so bad. Another song was described as “about a king named Tangerine,” which sounds too precious for its own good.

But all in all, it’s easy to forgive a few lyrical indiscretions when pop music is bold and beautiful, and this band’s music hit me like… well, you know.