What comes to mind immediately is the band 'Hella'. Years ago, I remember listening to them and not being able to comprehend any of it. All I could hear was cacophony and Zach Hill (drummer) playing at max speed- like always. I first wondered how it could have any musical merit at all, considering the fact that it sounded completely random and could be put together by anyone playing as fast as humanly possible. Only later did I realize that each phrase in every song was carefully written out. 'Why does this even matter? What's the point?'. The point is that Hella spends a fuck load of time working on both their skills and their songs- probably more than 90% of professional bands these days.
How is their time and effort relevant to their creative output? 'Just because they put time and effort in doesn't mean it's necessarily good', you may be wondering.
Well, in my opinion, music has a few prime aspects that constitute what is good:
Diversity- Diversity in music covers the range of human emotion, rhythm, and technicalities.
Technical- The Technical shows pure prowess in the art of playing their instrument(s).
Lyrical- The Lyrical displays the power to convey through word; related to the Emotional.
Emotional- The Emotional allows for the music to have meaning.
Structural- The Structural shows the musician(s) prowess in creating the song (songwriting).
Stylistic- The Stylistic is the musician/band's capability to create a new, unique 'sound'.
Melody- The Melody is the sensibility the musician(s) have developed much like the lyrical and tech.
Aural Appeasement- Aural Appeasement determines whether or not you 'like' the sound, and does not contribute to the merit of the song or band.
Messiness- The sloppiness of the music played can be a genuine trait for disliking music, but often times it is done purposefully for emotion on style. Of course, you'd have to be able to distinguish whether the messiness is warranted or not.
Hella devote their lives to the music not for the sake of grinding their technical abilities but also for the sake of expanding their musical horizons. If this comes with technicality then so be it. To disregard what almost everybody thinks as much as possible and work on their music for the sake of the music is passion. If it manifests in the form of noise, so be it. Often times, people seem to think that the music was made for them. It usually isn't. If you don't like listening to it, just don't!
Today I'm going to be doing something a little different, in that I'm going to be highlighting a piece of music I don't really consider to be "good", but still has a certain edge, a certain strength, that other songs like it lack. And once again, it's not because the music itself is good. No; what sets this apart entirely has to do with the context of who is preforming it.
Say what you will about the quality of his music post-Black Sabbath(bad) or his quality of character(low)-Ozzy Osbourne is the single most recognized, important individual in the history of heavy metal, and there will probably never be another one person as vital to the genre as he is/was. He's one of the very few metal musicians who's done the nearly impossible task of breaking into mainstream recognition-even people who don't recognize his significance as a musician know that he screams at his wife and kills animals for fun.
Ozzy has also gained a reputation for being something of a wraith, finding the best and brightest musicians to play in his troupe when they're young and casting them aside as quickly as he can find another talent to harvest(including the current lineup, in his almost 30 year solo career, Ozzy has had 10 guitarists, 10 bassists, 6 drummers and 7 keyboardists). Of those musicians, 2 have died-one from ulcers(Randy Castillo) and the other from being a coked-out retard who flew a plane into a house(Randy Rhoads), both of whom, now that I mention it, were named Randy. Coincidence?
Why do I bring all of this up? The man's career has been extensive, to say the least. He helped create the genre of heavy metal and has made a solo career that is successful to this day(even if it can be argued that the music itself ranges from "not very good" to "screamingly horrid"). He probably has at least a few hundred million fans, who know him from either his music, his debauchery, his television career, or all three. Ozzy Osbourne is 60 years old. His fans and his collaborators are legion.
The song "I Don't Wanna Stop" is, in a lot of ways, not very good, or at the very least there's nothing that really stands out about it, on first listen. But, as stated in the beginning, it's the context that makes this song kind of special.
The message is clear: "My enemies can eat shit and die. My fans can go get me a beer, and by Christ it had better be cold. My God, I am excellent." This alone, from a 60 year old man who could give half a fuck about what you think and has more money then the Franklin Mint, holds a certain charm, a way of making you wish that throne was yours. The presentation of this message, however, is something worth noting entirely by itself.
When Ozzy first left Black Sabbath, it seemed like he was trying to distance himself from their sound as much as possible-his haunted wail turned into more of a furious squeak, and the ultra low, heavy riffs that everyone was used to hearing back him up at the time turned zippy and upbeat at the hands of Randy Rhoads(possibly the most overrated metal musician who ever lived). In other words, he turned his sound into pop metal, and it sucked, especially in comparison to his earlier work with Sabbath.
With this song-and the whole album of "Black Rain", really-it sounds almost as though he's trying to return to his roots. Zakk Wylde(currently kickboxing with Nikki Sixx for Dumbest Stage Name) slams down riffs with a heaviness reminiscent of early Sabbath classics like "Into The Void" and Ozzy, once more, stretches his voicebox and becomes the ominous phantom he once was. It's as though the Ozzy Osbourne from 1972 wandered into the present just to say "Fuck you, I was great then and I'm great now and I'm going to live forever."
Because make no mistake, it's not just his present day band playing with him on this song. There's Randy Rhoads and Geezer Butler and Jake E.Lee and Carmine Appice and Tommy Alridge and Mike Moran and, if you listen closely, a little bit of Tony Iommi mixed in there too-not in the sound of the music, but in the spirit. Ozzy Osbourne has been the ringleader of a circus of some of the most talented musicians to ever walk the earth, and some mediocre ones as well, and even a few that were just flat-out not very good. Most of the music wasn't good then and in the future it's probably not going to get better.
But with power like his? With a seat waiting for him in the Pantheon? With that grin, and that howl?
It doesn't even fucking matter. Because in the song's own words, "You're either in or in the way."
It's Ozzy's world. Try not to fuck it up.
One shot. Personal camera work. Very fast film processing. Emphasis on blacks and yellows. An intense love of the bands he films. I doubt he would agree to film a band he didn't love. Takes bands out of normal performance space. Dirty Projectors in a McDonald's The Shins on the streets in Paris Arcade Fire in an elevator The Wombats on a boat the list continues. Bloc Party they really had to talk into it right outside a gig. These are the Take-Away Shows. They don't feel like a music video and they don't feel like a concert movie. They feel like. I guess. They feel like music. They feel like yes this is what should have been coupled with the music all along. Over a hundred have been made starting in 2006 and they keep coming. Every name in indie music. Probably some of your favorite bands.
Outside of that Vincent Moon never fails to amaze and charm. Hes funny. And he really fucking loves the music. He is good friends with The National and some of his best videos are with them here here here and here. He even directed a film for them, came out last year, called A Skin, A Night. Was commissioned to direct a music video by R.E.M. Has a brilliant collection of variably hilarious and intense you tube videos. In one clip he doesn't have a good view of Architecture In Helsinki so he just shoots his head headbanging through the song. Another shows Thurston Moore in one of his drones to end a show but the sound cuts out when it reaches the explosive conclusion.
This man is amazing.
2008; Arts & Crafts; Cardiff, Wales
The standard album review consists of three parts. The first section where you give an opening and discuss what ever the hell you want before getting to the music, the middle gives the sound of the record, its influences, lyrical quotes, song by song break down etc. and the last part is the conclusion and the "where this album fits in" in regards to the rest of the artists work. In my head over the last three days I amassed so much writing for part one of this review there threatened to be no second or third part at all.
I was going to talk about the difference between music of the intellect and music of intoxication (Apollonian and Dionysian for those of you who read too much) and how my main stay is intellect music but how intoxication music will always have a greater effect on me. i.e. I will always love Bob Dylan more then anything else but I will always love The Beatles more than Bob Dylan.
I was going to talk about the different kinds of angst, the Nirvana variety, the Elliott Smith variety, the Britpop variety, and the Modest Mouse variety, and their interplay within Los Campesinos.
I was going to talk about how ridiculous and amazing it is to find an album that was both pop music and punk as fuck without being remotely close pop-punk.
I was going to talk about the perception our generation seems to have about how the times of great movement-starting music is over and how Los Campesinos single handedly proves us all wrong.
I was going to talk about the sophomore slump and the view in rock music that a second album too soon is just songs not good enough for the first and an attempt to cash in on the success. And ask who releases their first two albums in the same year any more and where do they get off making them both good? And I was going to say how "prolific" and "constant touring" have become my two favorite phrases.
I was going to talk about how any use of violins in rock music before 2005 all tried to sound like Eleanor Rigby and all use after 2005 tried to sound like the Arcade Fire. I'd say how much this one felt like a medium between classical violin, fiddle, and electric guitar, and how much in place it felt in the music.
I was going to talk about the amazing lyrics that resonate with me and even work out of context. "Shout At The World Because The World Doesn't Love You" "I restored your mom's faith in men wile boring you to death" and the one that every review will quote "OH WE KID OURSELVES THERES FUTURE IN THE FUCKING BUT THERE IS NO FUCKING FUTURE"
I was going to devote an entire paragraph to the lines:
"As if I walked into the room to see my ex-girlfriend
(who by the way I'm still in love with)
sucking the face of some pretty boy
with my favorite band's most popular song in the background.
Is it wrong that I can't decide which bothers me most?"
I was going to say how through all this they never ever sound mopey or self pitying but retain so much fucking energy. Enough to set the room on fire.
I was going to talk about a seven piece band creating disjointed and chaotic music. And two guitarists that didn't seem to know the other one existed and just played they're own lead part. And how somehow this chaos is the most appealing thing in the world.
I was going to talk about how stupid I felt when I first herd the title track of this album. All this time I had been thinking of 2008 as a pretty good year for music but not as good as 2007. I should have been thinking of it as the year of Los Campesinos.
1. Ways To Make It Through The Wall
3. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
4. Between An Erupting Earth And An Exploding Sky
5. You’ll Need Those Fingers For Crossing
6. It’s Never That Easy Though, Is It? (Song For The Other Kurt)
7. The End Of The Asterisk
9. Heart Swells/Pacific Daylight Time
10. All Your Kayfabe Friends
i whisper in your ear "this is my downfall"
Motorhead has always been a little bit of an anomaly in terms of heavy metal, in that they have the utmost, undying respect from metalheads, and also some normal people like them, too. Normal people liked them so much, in fact, that their debut live album, No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith, was a #1 record in Britain for about a week. Considering that it was preceded by an album by a Dutch novelty disco act called Stars On 45 and followed by some stupid crap called Disco Daze and Disco Nites, there’s only one conclusion to draw: British people like Motorhead almost as much as they like retarded bullshit. Their popularity, with this in mind, cannot be overstated.
I believe that part of the reason people enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, Motorhead(even that Robert Christgau asshole likes them) is because they’re good at writing very sincere, very piercing music, and I believe that the reason No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith was such a success was because we finally got to see all of that insane fury completely cut loose.
A little bit of history: At the time No Sleep was released, Motorhead was quickly becoming one of the world’s foremost heavy metal bands, just coming off a string of classic albums: Overkill, Bomber and Ace of Spades. The three people making up the band at the time, Lemmy, “Fast” Eddy Clarke and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, were all tough fucking guys with tough fucking backgrounds who made tough fucking music, fucking toughly. Naturally, following their awesome studio albums and keeping in mind their tough asshole reputations, expectations for their first live album were probably pretty high.
Oftentimes, a song from a live album is going to sound a little bit more raw and wild than the studio version. Well motherfucker, you have not heard anything until you’ve heard the difference between “Overkill” in a studio and “Overkill” live at Hammersmith. All of their songs got a little bit crazier, sometimes even a LOT crazier, when they preformed them live, but this one…whoo boy.
Now, I’m not sure what it was that caused the effect with this song, specifically-maybe the guy who produced their albums was being a dick and wouldn’t let them record the song the way they wanted to. Maybe, being the middle of the show, they needed to do something to get their blood moving. Maybe it was something as simple as taking a short break between songs to snort a whole lot of cocaine. I don’t know, I’m not Lemmy(Go d knows I wish I was, though).
What I do know is this.
Studio version: Standard, danceable 70's metal.
Live version: An exercise in musical savagery.
As you can notice, the difference is fucking night and day. The live version is about twice as fast, Lemmy is free to growl like a motherfucker, the intensity has been ramped up about a hundred fold and those drums...my God, those DRUMS.
There's something very primal in this rendition of the song. It taps into the soul and brings out the beast within. If you don't want to move as FAST AS YOU CAN when you're listening to this, whether you want to run or punch somebody in the face or just bang your head as hard as you fucking can, you're not a human being. The studio version is a simple metal song; when it's done live, it's nothing short of a force of nature.
So when you can bring that to the table-when you can get that sort of sincere brutality out in the open, in front of a roaring crowd, and just go fucking ballistic-that's one of the architects of force, which shall heretofore be called: The Live Factor.
So if you go back to the very first post on “Styrofoam Boots”, you’d see where Stuart introduced this site as being about posting “good reviews and essays”. Most of these reviews have been quite good, but, looking around, I’m not seeing any real essays except for that one where Stuart was all like “I like music a lot” and that was more of an essay/review hybrid, so I’m going to bring it upon myself to write the first essays that’ll be featured on this site. I’m going to call it the “Architecture of Force” series.
Now given my track record, you’ll probably assume that this is all going to be about prog and metal, and while those both play a part in it, no, that’s not really what this is about at all. It’s more of a meditation on what makes a moving, powerful piece of music moving and powerful-be it metal, punk, folk, jazz or whatever I feel like shining a light on.
There are a shit-ton of definitions for the word “force”. The one I’m going to be concentrating on is this one: “intensity or strength of effect”. This means that I’m going to be looking at what the song is trying to achieve, and how it achieves this(I’m only going to be looking at ones I deem successful-no losers in my sounds club).
One of the points of this exercise is to see if there’s a kind of universal appeal in a powerful piece of music. One would think that somebody who listens to mostly jazz is going to be looking for a different effect or feeling then somebody who listens to largely punk or somebody who listens to largely rap-but as stated above, this is just an assumption. Most people take it for granted that this is the case, so, as somebody who has a rather expansive taste in music, I’m going to try to see if this is the case once and for all. It’s more of a side-goal, but I think it’s interesting enough to mention.
So, to recap: What makes a song powerful, and how does it achieve said power, and how can I claim something like that accurately without knowing a bunch of music school garbage? I can’t. But it’s science fact that I’m writing for a music blog because I know more about music than you do, so shut your pie hole.
Part 1 starts sometime this week.
Zazen Boys are a four piece from Tokyo, Japan that consisted (line-up is different now) of Mukai Shutoku (former member of Number Girl), Inazawa Ahito (former drummer of Number Girl), Hinata Hidekazu (formerly from Art-School), and Yoshikane Sou (formerly from Kicking the Lion). In Number Girl, Shutoku he led the band to become one of the biggest indie bands in Japan. In Zazen Boys, he continued his musical endeavors but with a more developed sound. In other words, sheer awesomeness.
Where do I begin. First of all, the album starts off as easily accessible, and I'd consider it an alternative album over an indie or math rock album any day. However this doesn't take away from any sense of dynamic that the album has. It's gets more and more difficult, but progressively so (no pun intended), easing into more and more intensity and experimentalism. It will leave you baffled by the fact that you actually were actually able to internalize it.
The band sound is unlike your typical alternative, math rock, indie rock, post-punk, spoken word, j-rock or rap. Although elements are presented throughout, Zazen Boys combine these elements into a cohesive sound without sounding corny or recycled. On track 2 Crazy Days, Crazy Feeling, you get a funk-inspired guitar riff played through a JC-120, r&b seemingly pitch-modulated female vocals, expressive drumming reminiscent of Number Girl, and the spoken-word and rapping of Shutoku 49 seconds in. How does any of this go together? It may sound confusing, but it makes perfect sense once listened to.
Overall, Zazen Boys sounds refreshing and the only thing they recycle are some of their Number Girl tendencies. By this I mean similar melodies, phrasing and chord progressions are reused. After listening to most of their other stuff, one downfall is the fact that entire songs seem to be redone with slightly different rhythms and vocal approaches on different releases. However, on Zazen Boys II, ideas and progressions aren't repeated as far as I can tell .
If this isn't enough to get you to listen to the album, realize that Mukai doesn't only sing. He does spoken word, raps, snarls, screams, and chants. His vocal range itself isn't very dynamic, but the way he uses his voice is ultimately expressive and in my opinion, his vocal delivery means more than some of the best singing in the world.
2009; Reprise; Atlanta, Georgia
If you listen to Mastodon's drummer, Brann Dailor, he will tell you that this is what their new album, Crack the Skye, is about:
"It's about a crippled young man who experiments with astral travel. He goes up into outer space, goes too close to the sun, gets his golden umbilical cord burned off, flies into a wormhole, is thrust into the spirit real, has conversations with spirits about the fact that he's not really dead, and they decide to help him. They put him into a divination that's being performed by an early-20th-century Russian Orthodox sect called the Klisti, which Rasputin is part of.
You know what? I went into this album not even knowing there WAS a story, so you can feel free to safely ignore this crackpot's ideas about his music, as long as his music is still good. And it is.
Progressive metal has been known for some time as the worst possible outcome of the genres it combines. It's snooty while being base, technically advanced without the slightest hint of dynamism, and always contains high-concept ideas with lyrics that wouldn't know depth or profundity if it slapped them right in the dick. If anything was going to pull this sad, sorry genre out of the mud, it wasn't going to be Dream Theater, it wasn't going to be Symphony-X and it sure as hell was not going to be the fucking Goddamn Flower Kings.
And I guess Mastodon felt that, as long as they were the only listenable band in modern American metal already, they might as well scoop up the pieces of prog metal and build it into something that a normal person could conceivably get into. I think they might have succeeded.
To be fair, this trend of making progressive metal not completely embarrassing didn't start with Mastodon-Tool has been doing their damndest for over a decade, and Cynic recently released the sublime Traced in Air, which I would say was far and away the best album of 2008. Like the aforementioned album, what Crack the Skye does is strip away all the masturbatory guitar solos and all the strained lyrics and replace them with warped, psychadelic imagery and pure, thundering musicianship.
Is this really an album about a cripple possessing Rasputin or whatever? Maybe-I don't know and I don't care. I know that the lyrics come off as being completely open to interpretation. I know that the riffs are electric, the drums are heavy and the vocals are piercing. I know that the subtle moments make the dashes of fury all the more powerful and I know that "The Last Baron" is one of my favorite new songs in some time.
I also know that it doesn't feel pretentious or snobby, and I know it feels like it doesn't belong to an exclusive club that only music school graduates are allowed to enter. It feels like it has something to say, even if what it's saying isn't entirely straightforward, and it wants as many people as possible to hear it. That kind of sincerity comes along rarely in modern music and almost never in prog.
And yes, this album does have problems. A few of the songs get to sounding awfully similar after a while and on "Ghost of Karelia" they actually re-use a guitar riff from an earlier album, which is a level of laziness that I'm not positive I'm comfortable with. Yeah, the idea behind the whole thing, though easily ignorable, is irredeemably goofy and that cover art looks like something you'd see painted on the side of a van.
But I think if you like metal already-or if you're just looking for something new-you really don't have anything to lose with Crack the Skye. It manages to combine classic rock fundamentals, progressive musicianship, good old fashioned heavy metal and kaleidoscopic ideas and sounds in a way I've never quite seen before. It's definitely different, and it's definitely something metal bands are going to be trying to imitate for years to come. There's a thoughtful, intelligent musical revolution coming down the road, and it's being birthed out of the corpse of progressive heavy metal. Who knew?
Genesis - Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, with an emphasis on Foxtrot
IT'S TOTALLY FUCKING RAW.
Anyway-Genesis is quite an odd beast to tackle. Public opinion generally seems to flow against them, which is something I've never been able to understand. Or, wait, is it because my generation takes their opinions from South Park?
No, okay, I understand completely.
This is the fourth album they cut-it's from their "golden age", which means Pete Gabriel singing, Steve Hackett on guitar, Phil Collins on drums, Mike Rutherford on bass, and Tony Banks on every instrument in the world. This lineup had four albums-this one, Nursery Cryme, Selling England by the Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. I haven't heard Cryme but I can definitely say that this is solidly between Selling England and Lamb. That doesn't mean anything to anyone who isn't me, so I'll go into some more detail.
To understand this, you need to know something about early Genesis, and that is this: They write fairy tales. They don't write songs about fairy tales, they make new ones and make them as musically complex as possible. Yes, it's pretentious and dandy and abstract and weird, but it's also just gorgeous fucking music. I don't think there's one person who couldn't find a song that moved them if they looked into it.
On the proggiest, most inaccessible end of the spectrum, you've got Selling England by the Pound. It has eight songs, two of which are over eleven minutes long, and for all save one, there is a keyboard solo that takes over five minutes. It's essentially studio-sanctioned masturbation and it's not an album I recommend to anyone who can't sit through a lot of pretentious horse shit, lyrically and instrumentally.They try to jam too many stories and too many disparate ideas onto one record and it really doesn't work as well as they think it does.
And then on the other side you have The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.Much like Pink Floyd's The Wall, it's a double concept album, and what that means that when you have an album that's 90 minutes, you're going to have an audience that's not going to abide 50 of those minutes being instrumentals or keyboard solos, so what they had to do was rein themselves in, and shit, did it ever work. It's instantly accessible without losing a modicum of depth or intelligence and it tells a compelling, if hard to follow, story at that. It's easily in my top 20 favorite albums of all time.
And then right in the middle of all this you have Foxtrot, released before both of them. It's six songs long-the final song is the 23 minute "Supper's Ready". It's the centerpiece of this album-a lot of people would call it the centerpiece of their early career-and Gabriel, Collins, Rutherford and the rest had the good Goddamn sense to make sure that it moves. Every minute trucks along briskly as we start in the living room of a pair of lovers and ends with Revelations and the building of the new Jerusalem. "Epic" doesn't begin to describe this song, and not "epic" in the way a bro would use it- really, truly sweeping and moving, like the Illiad or Beowulf. It's worth getting this album just to hear this song, if you're willing to invest the nearly half hour you'd need to enjoy it.
The rest of the album fares pretty well-not a whole ton happens during the first song, "Watcher of the Skies", but "Time Table" is a pretty lovely letter to "A time of valor, and legends born/When honor meant much more to a man than life", and while "Get'em Out By Friday" can wear on the nerves, "Can-Utility and the Coastliners" entertains throughout. It's interesting to note that the two longer songs("Watcher" and "Friday) easily cause interest to wane, while the two shorter ones are superior and the very, very longest is by far the achievement of this album.
So it's hard to really get a bead on this one. I would say that it's without question better than Selling England and definitely not as good as Lamb. But how would it sound to a newcomer(the important part)? I couldn't in good conscience tell anyone to stay away from this album; I think it would be more beneficial to borrow it from a friend and see what you think. This is not "walking around" music-this is Mr. James's government class: You'll have fun and you'll definitely learn something, but you're going to need to plant your ass down, shut up and pay attention. This is big kid music, and Genesis is not going to hold your hand through it. If you don't mind a little keyboard action, if biblical overtones interest you, if you like your music as more than "background noise"-well, I don't actually know if you'll like it, but I'll definitely be curious to hear what you think.