Saturday, October 15, 2005
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum: Of Natural History Review
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is one of the only bands that actually defies classification. Even among their brother bands in the growing “unclassifiable” genre (think Mr. Bungle, and all Patton-related projects for that matter), SGM stands out as one of the most creative and original, albeit nearly impenetrable collective of performers ever captured on disc. It's not so much because of their musical paths are previously untraveled or that they use fragments of genre-bending and jump cuts in their music like their fellow ungenred bands, but because they create an entire world around themselves. To narrow them down with buzz terms and cross-bred genre titles like “avant-prog” would be as much of a misnomer as it is an understatement, and somehow still completely accurate.
How exactly can one begin to undertake an album as detailed and abstract simply titled after the vastness Of Natural History? Like their previous effort, Grand Opening and Closing, this record is presented like a book, with its cover already summarizing the goals of the fictionalized literature inside: “What happened in the past? Will the future involve wood? Can we help the lower animals? Who swarms?” After you’ve gotten over the “what the hell?” confusion of these abstract concepts, you open it up to find a booklet entitled “The Futurists Vs. The Unabomber” and it all starts to make some sort of sense. Of Natural History is a highly thought out concept album involving the conflicting “anti-humanist” theories for and against the modern world. They actually include point by point lists of the major ideas in the different manifestos of the Futurists and of the Unabomber. Many of the songs on the album relate directly to text in the CD packaging and quote different essays or poems. Beyond the intrigue involved in such an effort, the actual music is just as interesting, detailed and frightening.
The opening track, “The Hymn to the Morning Star” creeps in ominous soundscapes and droning and melts into an almost ironic sounding gospel sung through the booming voice of singer/guitarist Nils Frykdahl, a voice that begs comparison to Mr. Bungle front man Mike Patton’s crooner-to-screamer pipes. It introduces a songbook of mythology and theory that might frighten the average listener with chants like “Bring Back the Apocalypse” and “The Creature” but is enough to keep any forward thinking black metal enthusiast listening. Carl Kihlstedt’s disciplined and enchanting violin breaks some of the chaotic math rock passages only to add to them an extra sense of mysticism on others. She lends her fabulous voice to a handful of tracks such as the clamorous “Phthisis” which excites me on several levels... needless to say I kind of have a crush on her. Check out her work in the Tin Hat Trio and Charming Hostess if you want to get an understanding of her full capabilities. “Bring Back the Apocalypse” is one of the most compelling of the songs because of its percussion duets and driving bass line by Dan Rathbun over the carnivorous barking of the band calling for Apocalypse.
The two longest songs on the album, “FC: The Freedom Club” and “Babydoctor” are both equally impressive in their composition and instrumental technique as well as extremely compelling lyrical style. Lyrics like “Even when the last tree falls/There will be fire” and “Let us dream the impossible dream of the math professor” among the screeching violin and crashing metal might spark the thinker in all of us while at the same time sparking hatred for pretentious art-metal, but lets face it folks: they’re called Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. When the music temporarily dies out the summary of the anti-futurist statement is made: “And let us never forget that the human race with technology is like an alcoholic with a barrel of wine” and propels the piece into some of the most amazing few minutes of musical collaboration I’ve heard in any art-rock band. The 12 minutes of “Babydoctor” never get boring or arduous and the instrumental parts tickle the brain even when layered with repetition. Homemade instruments such as The Slide-piano Log, the Percussion Guitar, the Electric Pancreas, the Vatican, & the Pedal-action Wiggler, Autoharp, Glockenspiel, Toy Piano, & Viking Rowboat (as they boast on their website) as well as real field recordings of old men making no sense are employed to create their particularly unique sound which is about as unique as their concept. The retrogressive hatred of progress and the future outlined in the two “anti-humanist” manifestos of the liner notes is particularly interesting to compare to the actual music of the band. While they are considered progressive and their music certainly is that, their sound is of a more primitive and cryptic nature which sounds almost medieval at times. They achieve progress without the traps of progressive rock because they do not pretend to be progressive and even reference retrogressive ideas for their music.
Of Natural History is more than just an album, it is the whole package (literally). It is deserves, nay demands at least a good three or four listens to get a full understanding/appreciation, even if its tendency toward the insane prevents a lasting place in your disc changer.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum are finally doing a lengthy tour as I type and I highly recommend anyone who has any interest in a brilliant spectacle of music and costume (so I hear) make it their business not to miss it. This tour includes Butoh perfomance artist Shinichi Momo Koga. It promises to be quite amazing. Unfortunately they’ve already played New York once and I was unable to make it, but I won’t miss the next time around. Here are the current tour dates:
Sat., 10/15 DC 9 Washington, DC
Sun., 10/16 Mercury Lounge (w/ Flaming Fire) New York, NY
Tues., 10/18 Earl (w/ Indorphine) Atlanta, GA
Wed., 10/19 Jackrabbits (w/ Indorphine) Jacksonville, FL
Thurs., 10/20 Will¹s Pub (at Antipop, w/ Indorphine) Orlando, FL
Fri., 10/21 Cellblock (w/ Indorphine) Mobile, AL
Sat., 10/22 TBD
Sun., 10/23 Conservatory (w/ Indorphine) Oklahoma City, OK
Mon., 10/24 Emo's (w/ Indorphine) Austin, TX
Tues., 10/25 Axis (w/ Indorphine) Fort Worth, TX
Thurs., 10/27 Rhythm Room (w/ Indorphine) Phoenix, AZ
Fri., 10/28 Howie And Sons (w/ Indorphine) Visalia, CA
Sat., 10/29 Attic Santa Cruz, CA
Mon., 10/31 Pound (w/ Kehoe Nation) San Francisco, CA
Also check out www.webofmimicry.com and www.sleepytimegorillamuseum.com for more information on the band and their strangeness.
Soulive: Break Out Review
Soulive has always been one of the go-to bands if you want to enjoy the stimulation of both your mind and your booty. Unsung heroes of the groove-funk-jazz band in the jam band scene, these master musicians have made a name for themselves all over the country as the best and the brightest stars in the Jimmy Smith-inspired instrumental soul funk trio subsections of jazz and rock. They bring class and wisdom to 2-day hippie festivals and ass-shakin’ rhythms to tired jazz clubs. They were one of the main reasons I started to enjoy the “jam band” at all.
Their new album Break Out brings them to a different place from where they started on their debut, but not so different that it will gather dust in my vast CD collection. With a band like Soulive you can’t help but compare any studio offering with the live experience and while this album has plenty of soul, it just doesn’t hold up to what they can really do.
The disc starts off with the first of three instrumental interludes which immediately excited me with the impression that while this album may not be just the straight ahead instrumental jazz-funk trio that I’ve been such a fan of for so many years now, but would also be highly flavored with a tasty brand of soulful R&B that harkens back even more towards the golden age of music otherwise known as the 70’s than their sound already comes from (the guest appearance of Chaka Khan certainly indicates this goal). It would be wrong to say that the following 11 songs disappoint based on this impression, but unfortunately the album isn’t as “solid”, as they said back when, as any effort from these boys should be.
“Reverb” keeps the album rolling in high gear with the classic deep grooves and instrumental technique that Soulive has become known for, and the album cruises along in near-top form for a few tracks. “Got Soul” isn’t just a song title, it is in fact a statement. It sounds like what Bill Withers might sound like if he was still making music and felt the hip hop vibe as comeback performers so often do. "Cachaca” gives us one of the more interesting songs on the album with Eric Krasno providing lyrical Spanish guitar riffs that leave you eager to move your dancing feet and what almost reaches repetitiveness is broken in the best way you can break up anything – a quick fluttering Spanish piano burst. It could have stood for less repetition of verses and more from the rest of the band, but it's still a great tune. This leads directly into what is unfortunately the only real showcase of Rashawn Ross’s trumpet soloing in this song which is still mistakenly left in the background. It’s always hard to fully accept the sound of a great live band translated into a polished studio recording, but when you’re truly missing an essential element due to production it becomes more than just a necessary sacrifice but rather a glaring flaw on what could be a consistently good album. Production aside, I do love that song.
There are a number of other quality booty shakers tunes and songs that make your soul smile and that smile is due in large part to the sweet vocal stylings of Reggie Watts. “She’s Hooked” has been in my head since I first heard it and is one of those songs that you enjoy hearing so much that you neglect the rest of the album for a few days. You might know Reggie from his work in Maktub... but then again you might not. Another soaring guest star is Robert Randolph, the incomparable steel/slide/pedal guitarist who makes anything he does glow. His work on the rocking cover of Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic” is just perfect and it adds up to one of the stand out tracks on this album, but not just because it is a powerhouse instrumental. The same can be said for the Krasno composition “Vapor” which also gets repeated spins because of its creative form and instrumental interplay. However, the overall album lacks the telepathic interplay and musical variation that it needs and opts to replace that fire with sometimes stale guest vocal spots which burn out quickly.
Reggie Watts isn’t the only guest singer on the album and though some are welcomed, too many guest singers on a soulfunk instrumentals bands album can slow things down rather than get things moving. Though Chaka Khan’s vocal contributions are a highlight the first time around, her song, along with “Take It Easy” and “Back Again” all start to sound the same and like “Freedom” are utterly forgettable in the scope of the bands career. Ivan Neville is a great singer and his talents are appreciated, but when you know the talents of the musicians are so great you can’t help but be disappointed with less than stellar vocal pieces. This also gives the album the quality of the reprehensible “smooth jazz” sound that true jazz and funk and jam fans detest for good reason. The production of the album doesn’t help this tragedy and sometimes muffles many of the outstanding instrumental work (drums, horns) going on in the background.
Overall Break Out is a moderate effort from an outstanding band. Soulive is a great power in their own genre and in any genre but while the vocal pieces are fun many of them add very little and often take away too much. The album closes with “Interlude III”, the last of the Interludes that do little else than overshadow the album and in comparison to their entire sum of 2:23 seconds of awesomeness against the whole albums 52 minutes you can’t help but wish there were 3 awesome vocal interludes and more awesome instrumentals.
Soulive’s new album is recommended for those who like to groove but not necessarily for perfectionists. The two are usually mutually exclusive, but you know what I mean. It is definitely worth a listen for its key tracks which are, to be generous: Instrumentals: “Crosstown Traffic” and Robert Randolph anywhere, “Vapor”, “Cachaca” and “Glad To Know Ya” for it’s party potential and excellent rubbery horn sections. Vocals: Reggie Watts on “She’s Hooked” and Ivan Neville on “Got Soul”. If you force it, you'll really enjoy this album. If you're a harsh critic you may look back towards previous efforts.
Also check out Reggie Watts at www.reggiewatts.com
Oneida: The Wedding Review
Oneida has never been a band that fits neatly in any defined genre of music (which seems to have become a genre in itself), but for the few people out there that have become accustomed to their particular brand of somehow consistent mind-bending psycho-rock, this latest offering will come as something of surprise even to their more ardent fans. Don’t get me wrong, The Wedding still offers the same kind of intelligent garage freak outs as their previous success, Secret Wars, only this time with strings.
Before I had heard anything of The Wedding I was lucky enough to attend a more-or-less private performance of a few of the new songs with a string quartet, and afterwards I was dumbfounded, unable to comprehend how a band who on a recent album, hammered my brain to the point of explosion with a 15 minute song of nothing but the same chords being mashed over and over, were now sitting before me singing softly against short and melodic string compositions. But alas, it is true and it is wonderful.
The Wedding is adventurous in a way that only
by JORDAN CLIFFORD
Spoon: Gimme Fiction Review
All rock critics seem to always be very eager to claim “album of the year” and throw out the word “masterpiece” like it’s going outta style. Though I refuse to use the word masterpiece for anything except my own work, Spoon’s “Gimme Fiction” is absolutely a flawless rock album and is, at least so far, the most consistent and pleasing album of the year. Britt Daniel writes songs that are filled with detail and somehow attains a balance between massive sound and scope contained in 11 tight songs (more including some fabulous bonus tracks like the haunting "Carryout Kids"). Not to cross boundaries into sacrilegious territory, but I’d go as far as to it has the same feel of inspired but concise conceptual pop as The Beatles “Revolver”. Songs like “My Mathematical Mind” and “I Summon You” set the somewhat dark tone of the album, “Was It You” provides interesting variety while “I Turn My Camera On” and “Sister Jack” keep the album flowing so perfectly and, in a perfect world, would be two of the biggest singles of the year. Thankfully, “Gimme Fiction” is as interesting and beautiful as it’s album cover, a shopping impulse that rarely ever pays off.
*Author's Note: This Review and the Oneida review were done sometime last year when these albums had just come out. They were also done for a "magazine" that requires a certain limited amount of words so you'll see far less detail and lengthly self indulgent writing in these than in the 2 above them that I did on my own for blogcritics.org. I guess I could go back and add to them, but what's the point?
Monday, October 10, 2005
Show Review: Comets On Fire/ Soldiers Of Fortune
Comets on Fire/Soldiers Of Fortune/Titan @ The Mighty Robot in Brooklyn
by JORDAN CLIFFORD
Next up was the band I traveled to see in the first place, an almost as unknown new act called Soldiers Of Fortune. This is an underground garage rock super group of sorts, which almost makes it something of an oxymoron, containing members of
Speaking of noise-rock, speaking of rock monster, speaking of amazing, on came Comets On Fire who had just played the night before at the more popular Bowery Ballroom in
*my predictions have been notoriously wrong ("XFL will replace the NFL altogether").