Classic Album Review :: The Flaming Lips — Embryonic

Little text explaining why I am doing so many reviews right now. The world, or at least North America, is fucked. Everything is breaking (because it needed to) and there is little happy that I can find to be exposed to. So, I focus on coffee and music. Since it would be boring to just keep reading about how great my black coffee is, I hope that you aren’t too sick of the music!

Interesting bit of information: I have almost exactly 38 days worth of music on my computer. I deleted about 3 days worth of stuff I either will never or have never listened to: so, biased as the claim may be, I only have the best the world has to offer!

I had my full collection on random yesterday, and was reminded of this album. It could be argued that this album isn’t old enough to be placed in the ‘classic’ category yet, but 2009 is a while ago. In my broken mind, I can justify it being two decades old. I can do simple math, I know it’s not. Shut up.

ANYWAY: This album borrows greatly from the ’60s psychedelic sound that the Flaming Lips have always used. I actually watched a video compilation using a song from this album over footage from the original Woodstock, and it fit rather nicely. I cannot decide if the Flaming Lips are in the wrong decade, or if they are just really good at appropriating sounds of the past. They fuse old sounds and ways of composing with new technologies and methods. It creates this almost timeless kakophonie. The sounds leave the listener in the middle of a miasma of ideas.

Of course, I am a huge fan of the drums on the album. They are really kinetic and almost lure the listener into a kind of trance. Most songs sport a simple 4/4 pattern, but there are deviations. The song ‘Your Bats‘ comes to mind, where it adopts a 6/8 in a way that isn’t noticeable at the start. Or, at the very least, I didn’t notice it. Maybe my mind is simple, I’ll let you be the judge.

The vocalist takes some getting used to. If you can accept his very high voice, it becomes impossible to consider any other style over the band. If someone cannot get over how shrill his voice is, however: it can render the album almost unlistenable. I could never fault anyone for being unable to get over it. I would pity them, however. It is far from a slight to point out how every instrument being played is being done so by a deft hand.

I mean, if I wanted to do a full career retrospective, I would be writing forever. This band has been producing albums in some capacity since 1983. The band has been through 16 members, with only the bass player staying absolutely consistent in his role. Even the individual who is now the lead singer didn’t start off that way. I really recommend reading the Wikipedia page about them, it’s fascinating!

Classic Album Review :: The Breeders — Last Splash

There are two different ways to describe this album:
that fantastic first jam session you have with a new band that just seems to work perfectly.
OR
The embodiment of the pre-Nirvana ’90s.

For the first definition, this album always illicents that feeling for me. It’s just loose enough to give it that improvisational feel, but just tight enough to know that it isn’t the case. Everything is very simple in the best way possible.

The second description is a little more in depth, and shares being easier and harder to define.

When you find out that it’s Kim Deal from The Pixies, it all starts to make sense. They have the same sort of “quiet-loud-quiet” song structure that The Pixies made famous. The biggest difference is that The Pixies always felt like they were trying to revolutionize music and change the pop landscape. The Breeders feel like the accept the way music is going and is just trying to produce a perfect album.

I almost feel as if this band would have been absolutely huge if not for the existence of Nirvana. This album has little to do with that bordering on metal sound that came from the Nirvana camp. Again, when you know that it’s Kim Deal on guitar, the comparison is easy.

The Breeders focus a little more on the pop angle of the music, and that’s far from a bad thing in this case. Really bass focused, and non-intrusive drum patterns; the emphasis becomes more vocal-centric as opposed to Nirvana’s and their contemporaries “lyrics are important but listen to how cool this riff is” style of doing things.

I know I just went on a rant about how this band puts more emphasis on lyrics, but songs like Roi are very easy to get lost in. The effects on the strings and the dreamy definition of the vocals almost lull the listener into a trance.

I am reviewing this album because it’s the only one by this band that I know. The Breeders have eight studio albums, and this album (though I love it very much) doesn’t inspire me to check out the rest. It’s a perfect encapsle of the time, but I’m afraid to spoil the perfect image in my head of this band. Seriously, listen to this album. It should be easy to find at your local second-hand music store, if nowhere else. The band is touring again, at least as of 2018.

Classic Music Review :: Vex Red — Start With a Strong Persistent Desire

The biggest plus of working at the music store I did was finding albums that were never anything, but that really should have been. Whether it was because of poor marketing, a small label folding, the band breaking up, or all of the above.

Vex Red is a band that I found purely by accident. I always looked into the bands that we no longer carried to find something that tickles my fancy, and this one day; I hit the motherload.

They remind me of a mix between Stabbing Westward and Flaw (another band that I have to highlight one day). They would have joined right in with the early ’90s pseudo-goth scene. In fact, saying that they would have worked on the Blade soundtrack would not be too far fetched a statement.

They combine electronica with metal beautifully. Pre-programed drums mixed with synthesizers and a love for the low end. This is complimented by the singer, whose voice sounds strained on purpose to convey the bleakest of emotions.

Lyrical content is a bit more mature, even if they rarely swear on this album (with exception with the track “Can’t Smile” where it feels mandatory for the narrative.). It is the kind of pointing fingers and blaming everyone else for your misfortune, but it never sounds pathetic or unnecessarily angsty. Instead, it comes off as a plea from someone who has been tortured for a majority of their formative years.

SPEAKING OF THE SONG CAN’T SMILE!
I did not know until I got to this point of the review that there was a music video produced for the song. It is NOT GREAT. Unfortunately, that song is one of the better examples of the album. So ignore the poor censorship and awkward vacant gaze. and just enjoy the everything else.

Classic Album Review :: Jill Barber — Chances

How’s this review for whiplash? Jill Barber is the opposite of Mudvayne, but also just as good.

Think 40’s jazz but modern. She has the cutest voice, and the most simple symphony behind her. I love the way the record sounds. I already mentioned the fact that it is a 40’s inspired voyage, but there is something comforting about the lyrics.

Yes: they can come off as petty and juvenile. They can also be endearing and alluring. Her narratives are cliché, but that is what makes them so great.

The track “Oh, My My” will always be one of my favourite tracks. It really reminds me of a Blossom Dearie song, but up-to-date and grittier.

The ONLY complaint that I have about this record is Jill Barber wears her country origins on her sleeve at times. Not so much in the orchestration, but in her voice. She does runs that you only hear in country music. The saving grace, in this instance, is that she is doing them in a different medium. It keeps things bearable.

Wow. I put a bow on my love for this album with that last line didn’t I?

I digress: this album will probably remain in my top ten for all time just because it is both beautiful and safe. I know that if I put it on, I will listen to the whole thing and thoroughly enjoy every second of it.

Classic Album Review :: Mudvayne — L.D. 50

This was not my choice, but a choice made on my personal FaceBook page. I wanted to do either Skeletons by Nothingface of The End of All Things To Come by Mudvayne, because I felt that these two made similarities that go unmentioned. Then, people pointed out how amazing LD50 is, and now I am going to go down that rabbit hole because I have been screamed at to.

Oh, and I really want to.

L.D. 50 has possibly my favourite bass in all of Nu-Metal that’s not Primus. I feel like that is an important point to state. Not many bands can be mentioned in the same breath as Primus, so that’s a thing.

ANYWAY

L.D. 50 is one of those albums that influenced much of what I listened to for 20 years. Also, that album is 20 years old this year and that is all kinds of weird to think of. I saw the music video for Dig forever ago and was floored by anything so heavy. Keep in mind, I wasn’t 12 yet. I was stupid.

It doesn’t change the fact that Dig was interesting because it could be in the same vein as Korn and as Cannibal Corpse. It’s heavy, the lyrics are important, and it is strangely catchy. Assisted by the make-up worn by the band in the video, I remember every single hit from this song. I made it my mission when I was 14 to learn every part of this song on drums, and it took me another few years to get it to a point where I was happy with my abilities.

I purchased the album after Death Blooms became a single. The song revolutionized what I thought of metal lyrics because of it’s poetic prose and almost elegant handling of the english language. Yes, they deal a lot with violence and gore. They also explore mental illness (Internal Primates Forever) and grief (Death Blooms) in an almost elegance that most bands do not pull off with such finesse. The music embodies the overall message they try to convey. To this date, I cannot figure out what came first between lyrics and music. I want to say music, but there is just such as elegance that is portrayed.

My personal favourite songs from the album are not singles. It’s actually interesting to divide the album between singles and non-singles. If you had never heard of this band before, you could still figure out which songs were used to sell. Yet, the singles do not feel cheap. They feel like they belong, and were used as almost a pallet cleanser.

In writing this retrospective, I found out that there is a music video for Nothing to Gein. This is my second favourite song on this album next to Prod. Enjoy.

Classic Album Review :: Nine Inch Nails — The Fragile

This album sits comfortably in my top five. It is two discs of oppressive perfection. It somehow retains the depressive anecdotes of all things in the darker side of the world without sounding like it was written by a 14-year-old who got dumped.

I think my favourite part is how it jumps from mood to mood. It starts with the hellish “Somewhat Damaged” where Trent Reznor reminds us how it is possible to be destroyed and still have teeth to bite, then transfers to “The Day The World Went Away” where he cries about how everything is broken and horrible. I know that, on paper, it doesn’t sound like the dichotomy I praised the album for is apparent, but it goes from machine-based rhythm to having no precussion in the traditional sense. Track two relies on the hits of the bass string to relay the points drums would in most other songs. It keeps the song incredibly heavy, but makes it more so on an emotional level as opposed to instrumental.

The album keeps going back and forth on these two kinds of songs. They are either peaceful/almost classical; with precussion taking a back seat. Or they are very mechanical and abbrasive.

Two songs stick out from the fray. “Just Like You Imagined” builds and builds using the most intense drums in a loop. It remains organic feeling, but creates a tension that can only be found elsewhere accompanied by some sort of visual. Somehow, this song is as intense as a movie.

The other outlier is my personal favourite in the compelation: “La Mer” is one of the most beautifully composed pieces ever. Or, at least, I think it is. It is just a simple piano line that slowly gets more complicated as time moves on. The drums kick in shortly after two lines are recited in French. I have refused to translate it in all my years being in love with this song for fear of it ruining my illusion.

The best part: that’s all disk one. Disk two is much more angry. The closest it gets to being uplifting (or, as uplifting as Nine Inch Nails can be) is the song “Into the Void” where the lyrical content is just as happy as the name of the song. At least it has a danceable beat?

This album is very hard to find a track to best encapsulate the entire collection. I would direct attention to La Mer or Just Like You Imagined, but those songs stand out BECAUSE they are so different from everything else. So, I think I will put the song “I’m Looking Forward To Joining You, Finally” because OF COURSE I WOULD.

Seriously, this has been the hardest album to write about. Two reasons; I love every second of it, and it contains so many brilliant examples of what someone can do with the art of music. I beg that you look into this album yourself. Even if you don’t care for the song I singled out, there is something you will love somewhere on this album.

Classic Album Review :: Stabbing Westward — Darkest Days

I might be wrong: I think everyone forgot about this album. I find it strange because this album is like a strange radio-friendly version of early Nine Inch Nails mixed with Bush X. It is both accessible and hard-hitting. I do not have it in my pantheon of constant rotation, but it is a very welcome addition to my library.

The album opens with a haunting soundscape, very mechanical and broken. The bass then kicks in driving a simple 4/4 riff while bells chime overtop. It is incredibly haunting, even if it is simple in execution.

The coolest part for me is that the vocalist starts by singing in almost a whisper, only to crecedo when the music does. And how it does! The opening track is in my top 10 opening tracks for demonstraiting the full capability for a band. Nothing is very from a skill perspective, but it is very impactful and hard-hitting.

One of the last lines of the first track (everything I touch I break) gets repeated over and over in the second track. Not in an “I’m 13 and know everything” kind of way, but more that dark and brooding way that Deftones does — point out the horrible in people and exploit it. The kind of angst that never really comes off as whining, but more like that expression of a soul done by someone who has actually seen some shit. The kind of writing that we all wished we were capable of in high school, tried, but came off as spoiled children instead of creating the portrait that we were trying to express.

Have I mentioned that the late nineties, in particular ’97 through 98, is my favourite moment in music? I do not know what was going on in society, but everything was perfect. From Beautiful Midnight by Mathew Good Band to Rabbit In Your Headlights by UNKLE came out right around the release of this fantastic album. I have gushed about the atmosphere of the former, and I plan on writing something on the latter in a bit, but that year is peppered with genre-defining moments of all forms.

Anyway, I have gushed enough. I know that I did not go further into specific instrumentation, as I normally do. This album is better defined through the overall feel, not to say the individual parts do not matter. For a proper breakdown of the instruments, all I can say is nothing special happens and that actually makes it better. Give it a listen. You’ll know what I mean.

Classic Album Reviews :: Squarepusher — Big Loada

I was initially going to wait a little before I wrote this up, but I could not stop myself. I fucking LOVE this album, and it is a perfect representation of what you can do with digital music.

Few albums have the balls to start on such a frenetic pulse as this one. Come On My Selector is not only a fantastic single, but is such a kick to the face. I cannot even figure out a place to start talking and dissecting in regards to the composition of this song. I will remind you that Tom Jenkinson plays the bass lines himself.

Now, why talk about an album that I have a hard time dissecting when Hello Everything, or even Ufabalum, are much easier to compare to other more commercially accepted things? Because this album defies being appreciated and spoken about. This is my challenge, and I am so very happy and excited to try. I say that, but I am probably just going to talk and talk about how broken everything is then tell you to listen to it.

Like I mentioned, track one is a slap in the face with chaos. Track two reminds me of old racing games on the Super Nintendo mixed with the sounds your car would actually exhibit if you tried to go those speeds. Track three seems like it may be more conventional, then it descends into the depths of madness.

And, might I just remind you that almost all of the bass lines are performed on an actual bass? The time signatures on some tracks change with the bars. Less than Hello Everything, this album is the jazz of electronica. To realize that it is all being composed by one human is mind blowing. To accept that he performs the bass lines himself on a bass is even less fair.

I am going to place the music video below for Come On My Selector. If you think that song is at all interesting, I implore you to at least listen to other songs from both Big Loada and Hello Everything. In particular Bubble Life is a not-fair example of what he can do on bass. ALSDKFNQWOEIFS I love these albums.

Classic Album Review :: Aphex Twin – Richard D. James Album

Something I don’t normally express is my strange obsession with off-beat electronica. I put a vote up on FaceBook between Aphex Twin and Sparepusher, and only got one reply. I would be more upset by that, but Squarepusher seems to be a bit more obscure in the circles I run in. To bad, too: there is something to be said about a man who plays all the bass lines live. Maybe I will do Big Loada as my next music article.

Anyway! This album truly changed what I saw the landscape of music to be. It somehow contains both the most peaceful and serine, and well as the more wrong and distorted, collection of sounds you will find in music. The album starts with a track that displays more of the former. It’s pretty, relaxed (kind of), and normal. However, starting with the next track, things change. It gets darker. More willing to be strange.

Strange really is the best way of describing the tone of majority of the songs. It’s far from bad, but not normal. Songs like Milkman straddle the line of being acceptable and inappropriate, and even the most normal songs are just kind of off. It is very hard to describe. Maybe like that dream that you cannot call bad, but never want to have again. Nothing inherently wrong, but nothing you would ever describe to your parents.

What I find interesting are songs like To Cure a Weakling Child where they start pretty, cute almost, then have this bridge where things just go horribly wrong and distorted. The next track (Goon Grumpas) goes in a different direction again. It sounds like something you would expect to hear as a town in shown to be perfect in a movie or video game. It never breaks the feeling of bliss, but that comfort is dropped by the first note of the next track (Yellow Calix). I am not saying that it’s a complete departure that goes off the rails in ever possible direction, but it changes mood completely, and Aphex Twin plays with the percussion line heavily.

This is my favourite album by him. The only one that compares and Drukqs released 4 years later. I feel comfortable comparing him to The Dillinger Escape Plan, especially after they covered one of his songs years ago. I cannot recommend this album to someone who doesn’t already know of this movement in music, but I feel comfortable saying that anyone who looks for something more in their music would enjoy this heavily.

As always, I do apologize for the abundance of ads that have come up in the examples. I try, really hard, to give you ad free enjoyment. It rarely works out. HERE’S A VIDEO OF THE ALBUM!

I guess I should do some shameless self-promotion for my book here.

Classic Album Review :: & You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead — Source Tags & Codes

I fought with myself for a time about which one of the 10+ albums to write about. Minus one album, I fucking love everything this band has released, and the one album is not bad. It just doesn’t hold a candle to everything else this band has done. So, I thought I’d write about the first album that I picked up from this band. Unrelated, but this also stands as my favourite from this band.

On top of having the longest name of any band I revisit on a regular basis, & You Will Know Us By the Trail Of Dead (from here on referred to as Trail of Dead) is one of the most reliable bands that I have ever come across. They brilliantly fuse punk and folk, without sounding too pirate based. Somehow, their recording tone is always huge — larger than life, really.

For just being three main musicians on the recording, it’s a bit amazing. Yes, this album boasts having over 13 musicians in the studio, but the band was only a 3-piece at the time. And, regardless of how many people were in the studio: the drums are what make everything so bombastic. The kick drum in particular permeates every noise layered over it- almost like it is defying anything to try to drown it out.

Guitars are a beautiful drone. Yes, there are probably many layers of distortion and lead riffs, but they are used to create a beautiful miasma that guide the orchestrations from part to part. “How Near How Far” is a brilliant demonstration of this. Though the bass slides up and down the scales, and the guitars jingle through several notes, it creates this level of noise. Yes, there is definition. You need to find it, however. Rarely does an album challenge the listener this much to realize just how beautiful it is.

Now, when I saw challenge the listener, I am not saying that it is off-putting or not pleasant. I am simply pointing out how from afar it seems like a simple pop-rock album with strained vocals. It’s when you sit down and listen deeper that you notice the nuance and complexity that comes with this recording.

Second favourite opening for an album ever, by the way. The only album that takes it over is the album So Divided that Trail of Dead released 4 years later. The intro track is only 1:29, but it complexly disarms the listener before the chaos starts. If you wanted to discredit that track as the intro, the first song (It Was There That I Saw You) kicks the listener in the face right away. It is nothing short of an assault on the senses. As hard as it kicks in, the song moves into a lull by the 1:00 mark. It is an amazing piece, the the song as a whole has an almost classical orchestration.

I could gush over every song individually, but I should really think about wrapping this piece up. My end thoughts on this recommendation are as follows: if you know the band, this album is nowhere near surprising. If you don’t already have it, I question your taste in music. If you DO NOT know this band, do yourself the greatest favour ever and listen through this masterpiece.

Also, you’re welcome.

HEY! Did you know that I have released a book?

It’s a reedit of You’re Not Dead with a bunch of other short stories all wrapped up. The length has ballooned out to a nice 205 pages. It’s really inexpensive, and available most places that you would order a book from! Links here, but let me know if you find more and I will update accordingly!